In the neoliberal academy, we are all pawns in a game of league tables and metrics, a data-based game where there is never a winner. That does not mean as individuals we have to concede to work within institutions that have no regard for our value. Many of us would hope that was an intrinsic value, but it seems that many vice-chancellors have even forgotten the extrinsic value of their staff in ensuring their institutions continue to climb the league tables upon which they place so much value.
The debate about the damage marketisation is doing to the sector is a separate one, but it is because we are in a market that the USS pensions dispute shouldn’t just concern those staff already employed within those institutions who are part of the scheme. It should be of concern to all staff working in academia as one day they may come under its remit. This is why I, like many working in non-USS institutions are just as concerned with the dispute.
Like many other PhD students, I am contemplating where I may want to work and what to do after my thesis is complete. The actions of many senior management teams across the sector have not gone unnoticed. Whilst some have acknowledged the extremely challenging position staff have been put in and extended a fig leaf by spreading salary deductions. Others have taken a more punitive stance. What I am clear on is that I do not want to work for an employer that doesn’t value their staff and I am sure I’m not alone in this. Many vice-chancellors seem to forget that in the run-up to the next REF and TEF cycles, many mobile academics and administrators, who are key to central to the delivery of research projects and teaching excellence will be voting with their feet. This is problematic when their beloved league table positions rely on the commitment of staff to act as victors in their academic hunger games. After all, you are only as good as those who are willing to represent you in the battle. Much of the success in this game relies on the goodwill of the staff and the countless hours they commit to writing papers and preparing to teach over and above their paid hours of employment. This is a goodwill that is being chipped away at by the adoption of hard-line stances by those senior staff.
There are many good and proper employers out there, every vice-chancellor has the choice to be one of them. Should they do so, they are likely to reap the fruits of their labours by attracting the best staff. Those who chose not to be are likely to suffer and struggle to recruit the lifeblood of their universities; Academics and administrative staff who are willing to dedicate their lives to producing research upon which the institution benefits.