Oxford Defend Education organised a banner drop on Saturday 17th January, outside Exam Schools. The banners, declaring ‘Fair pay now’ and ‘Education not for sale’, fell from a window opposite Exam Schools and from the top of St Mary’s Tower, in an effort to draw attention to what Oxford Defend Education describe as exploitative pay in universities for support staff and academics, as well as to protest against cuts to higher education.The action also comes in the context of direct action at other universities, such as the occupation of a building by student activists at Warwick University in December.The banner drop follows a social media campaign by Oxford Defend Education drawing attention to discrepancies in wages between Oxford’s Vice Chancellor and the University’s support staff.On the Facebook event for the campaign, entitled ‘Andrew Hamilton – IT’S PAY DAY!’, Oxford Defend Education stated, “Before Hilary term even begins, he [Andrew Hamilton] will have earned the same amount as Oxford’s lowest paid full-time staff earn in a whole calendar year.’According to Oxford Defend Education, this figure was calculated by comparing Oxford University’s lowest pay grade for full time staff (£14,959) and the Vice Chancellor’s annual total pay in 2013, including his pension (£434,000).[mm-hide-text]%%IMG%%10835%%[/mm-hide-text]The campaigners wish to see a reduction in the pay gap between the highest and lowest paid university staff to a ratio of 5:1 over the next five years. This would mean that the highest paid full-time staff would earn a maximum of five times the lowest paid staff. In addition to this campaigners also want to see the Living Wage paid to all employees, including those who are subcontracted, part-time and temporary workers, as well as action to reduce the gender and racial pay gap affecting staff.Will Searby from Oxford Defend Education said, “It’s important to recognise that I think we’re seeing a far more organised student movement now than has previously been the case. 2010 obviously still looms quite large on the public consciousness, but it’s important to remember that 2010 was a massive defeat for students. What you’re seeing now is a student movement informed by people who learned lessons from four years ago, with a proactive, rather than reactive approach. “That’s reflected in student activism, so whilst the protest in November of last year was only 10,000 strong, compared to the consistent 150,000 you saw in 2010, it had clearer aims, we’re not just reacting to attacks anymore, we’re fighting back, and as a result the demands are far more inspiring, students in 2010 were marching against a rise in tuition fees, now were marching for free education, which includes fighting casualisation of academic and support staff, addressing race and gender pay gaps, and generally fighting for the kind of education that inspires us.“That’s not to say the threat of defeat isn’t still there – our own Vice Chancellor is one of a number of people lobbying to raise tuition fees to £16,000 a year, but there’s far more hope now, and a far clearer understanding that our fight is only one aspect of an across-the-board attack on Higher Education and society at large.”[mm-hide-text]%%IMG%%10836%%[/mm-hide-text]In response to the issues raised by the protest, a University spokesperson told Cherwell, “For many years, Oxford has ensured that everyone employed by the central University is paid the Living Wage. The University has been considering further steps on the issue of the Living Wage and hopes to make an announcement in the next few weeks.“The Vice-Chancellor’s salary as of August 2014 was £339,000. This represents a one per cent rise on the previous year, in line with the one per cent rise for all University staff. The Vice-Chancellor’s annual salary, benefits and pension contribution totaled £442,000 as of August 2014.“Oxford is one of the great universities of the world, making a major contribution to the economic prosperity of the UK as well as to tackling global challenges through its research. Its research output is vast, it has an almost billion-pound-a-year turnover not including the colleges and Oxford University Press, and it has great institutional complexity. The University must remain globally competitive and its Vice-Chancellor’s remuneration needs to reflect that.” The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have called for further action across university campuses on January 31st.
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