The protest was entitled "Reclaim the Open Day" on FacebookStephanie Stacey

Teaching staff at Cambridge are holding protests during Cambridge open days this week, to protest casualisation and the gender pay gap at the University.

The protests began yesterday, and were organised by Cambridge University and College Union (UCU) and the Graduate Union (GU). Prospective students were met by campaigners holding banners reading “raise the bar for casual staff” and “close the gap”, as live music accompanied a bike parade of protestors.

They also handed out a tourist map of inequalities at the University.

Campaigners began their protest around the University at Sidgwick site, before moving on to New Museums Site and Downing Site. Members of Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) were also in attendance.

 In response to the protests, the University has defended its commitment to addressing the casualisation of teaching work at the University.

The University’s Gender Pay Gap Report 2018, the most recent report of its kind, also shows that Cambridge’s average gender pay gap stands at 19.7%, higher than the national average of 15.1%. However, the University’s median gender pay gap last year was calculated to be 13.7%, narrower than the national median of 14.8%, as reported by Times Higher Education.

When the report was published, a spokesperson for the University told Varsity that while these figures showed the gender pay gap at the University to be reducing year-on-year, that such progress “must be accelerated”. They argued that the figures indicated a need to encourage “more women into professorships and positions of senior leadership.”

Cambridge UCU anti-casualisation officer Sandra Cortijo yesterday expressed to Varsity that the protests “give the [prospective] students a chance to discover another side of the University”.

When questioned about the decision to hold protests on open days for prospective students, Cortijo stated that this provided “a good chance for us to raise awareness to all the people who we don’t see the rest of the year”.

Another campaigner stated that it is “quite important” for current and prospective students to “realise quite how they’re going to be taught and by who”, citing that they feel “no sense of job security, no sense of longevity, [and] no sense of career development” despite having held a staff position at the University for a number of years.

“Prospective students can make what they will of the information,” said another.

“In a sense, students have been turned into consumers whether or not they wish it,” and so it is “important to give them the [information] which they need in order, if they choose, to be ethical consumers,” they continued.

A University spokesperson told Varsity: “The University has been working constructively with UCU, Unison and Unite since January 2019, to address concerns raised around the use of fixed term and casual contracts”, citing the creation of a working group involving senior members of the University and union representatives which “has met on an almost monthly basis”.

“We remain committed to working with the unions to try to resolve these issues, with regular meetings scheduled until the end of 2019”.

In response to Varsity’s request for comment, Cortijo also noted that “teaching staff on insecure contracts are often unable to realise their full potential. Students stand to benefit from teachers who are happier and healthier through being securely employed”.

The parade comes after UCU released a new report yesterday entitled ‘Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education’, which highlights the casualisation of academic labour as “a massive problem” facing the UK university sector as a whole. According to the report, around 70% of the 49,000 researchers in the UK higher education sector currently hold fixed-term contracts.

The report saw over two-thirds of respondents (71%) citing working on insecure contracts as damaging to their mental health, while over two-fifths (43%) stated that it had affected their physical health.

It also noted that workers on insecure contracts are “holding down multiple jobs and struggling to pay the bills”, as emphasised by Cambridge UCU in their press release.

Cambridge UCU Vice President Jenny Marchant stated that the decision to protest at open days was not one the union has taken “lightly”, but that “the University needs to understand that a true world-class institution respects its staff”.

“Cambridge prides itself on its unique model of teaching based on one-to-one or small group supervisions and the way this model has been developed has led to the exploitation of staff. We have staff that are suffering from extreme levels of financial and personal hardship”.

In her statement to Varsity, Cortijo stated that the University “will not talk to us about top-level structural changes that are needed, such as the introduction of contracts for all people teaching for the University”.

“If the University realises that students are not going to shut their eyes on casualisation, that might encourage management to start addressing the Union’s demands”, she added.

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