Unsustainable system

Originally published in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

John Field has proposed that Scottish academics should accept voluntary pay freezes to “help shore up the sector’s finances” (“Seeking volunteers: scholars urged to take pay freeze to aid Scottish academy”, 30 November).

He writes about the social contract between universities and civil society, urging academics to consider their responsibility to the latter. What he fails to consider is that this social contract has become increasingly one-sided.

For decades, the UK government has systematically withdrawn support from higher education. Academics have filled the gap by accepting ever-increasing workloads in an effort to maintain the quality of their teaching and research. Tenure was abolished in 1988 under Margaret Thatcher, and today more than half of all academic workers in the UK hold fixed-term or part-time contracts.

Alongside the rest of the education sector, academics struggle to “do more with less” because they care about their work and the people they serve.

Field rightly points out that our current system is unsustainable, but he forgets that it is already heavily subsidised by personal commitment.

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