We are students occupying the University of Edinburgh’s Finance Director’s office and have been in occupation since around 9.30am this morning (December 2nd). We stand in solidarity with university staff and demand that the University of Edinburgh:
Uses its weight and influence to argue for real-terms increases in university staff pay
Reduces the pay ratio between the lowest paid and highest paid staff in the university to 1:10
Commits not to sanction participants of the occupation
These demands come at a time when university staff are striking over a real-terms pay cut of 13% over the last five years. Members of Unison, the University and College Union, Unite and the Educational Institute of Scotland are protesting against a proposed 1 per cent increase in wages, which they say amounts to a 13 per cent pay cut in real terms since October 2008. Unite National Officer for Education Mike McCartney called the one per cent pay offer “completely unacceptable”, stating that the cumulative operating surplus in the higher education sector was now over £1 billion. The University of Edinburgh has boasted that over the last four years its staff costs have continued to decline as a proportion of total expenditure and are now 53.75%; essentially bragging about the real-terms pay cuts that staff have faced. At the same time as workers struggle to afford the day-to-day costs of living, the University of Edinburgh Principal earns a £285,000 salary, including pension contributions, a free house and a free chauffeur car. The pay ratio between the highest- and lowest-paid staff at the University of Edinburgh as of 2012 was 18.51:1 (source). This occupation is part of a process of escalation that is the culmination of democratic discussion, deliberation and debate. We are occupying in solidarity with the fact that university staff are being forced out on strike for a second time this term after management throughout the country refuse to heed their cause.
Enourmous pay inequalities are just one symptom of the increasing commercialisation and marketisation of higher education throughout the United Kingdom. Massive tuition fee rises have been pushed through to turn education from a public good to a private asset (figures show that the new system of loans is more expensive). Critical thinking, open mindedness and the necessity of knowledge to democratic deliberation are being destroyed as students are increasingly forced to see higher education as a financial investment. This leaves many prospective students simply unable to afford the costs of attending university, which now includes the prospect of graduating with over £36,000 in tuition fees debt alone. Not content with this, the government has also privatised the student loan book – which means private companies are now in charge of student debt and will be able to take measures such as changing interest rates at will, adding to the complete financial uncertainty facing young people today. Inequality of access to education undermines the principle of education as a public good and only serves the interests of those already in positions of power. This situation is further exacerbated by the lack of democracy in universities and society which allows managers and politicians to impose changes from above. We need a truly democratic system which allows people to deliberate collectively and direct their own lives, rather than suffer the decisions made behind closed doors for the benefit of those in power.
Whilst the university reneges on its duty to provide a social and societal good through its refusal to support students and workers, it at the same time investing huge amounts of money in companies contributing to social unrest and destruction of the climate. The University of Edinburgh has around £30 million in investments in fossil fuel companies, which includes £4.5 million invested in Shell alone, a company responsible for human rights atrocities as well as destructive environmental processes. University investments send a clear statement about what the university as an institution supports – and investing in fossil fuel companies and the arms trade delegitimises any claim that the institution makes to support projects which contribute to sustainability and the social good.
It is clear that in all aspects of its financial priorities, the University is on a track towards destruction and inequality rather than education and social progress. This is why we have chosen to occupy the office of the Finance Director, and support the staff who are striking on the 3rd.
Edinburgh University Occupation.