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Protests at University of Cambridge open days over teacher exploitation and gender pay gap

4 July 2019 | last updated: 9 July 2019

Students and parents attending open days at the University of Cambridge will be met by protestors keen to lift the lid on the exploitative use of students and hourly-paid staff to deliver teaching at the institution.

Protestors will cycle around departments and colleges on a bike parade with banners, flags and music. They will hand out leaflets on the exploitation of teachers and another on the university's gender pay gap, which is 19.7% - higher than the average for higher education of 15.1%.

The union said protesting at open days was not a decision it had taken lightly, but said that insecure contracts and pay gaps were bad for staff morale. The university's own data shows around two-thirds (66%) of staff doing teaching at Cambridge are paid by the hour and as many as three-quarters (76%) do not have a contract.

The university's vice-chancellor Stephen Toope has spoken previously about Cambridge's "uncompromising commitment to excellence in education, learning and research, enshrined in the university's mission statement".

Cambridge University UCU representative Jenny Marchant said: 'We haven't taken the decision to protest at the open days lightly, but 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. Some don't have enough money to pay for food or rent, while others are seeking to leave the sector because they can't make ends meet.

'The dual issues of increasing casualisation and the gender pay gap are having a massive impact on staff morale and our efforts to make meaningful improvements have so far been rebuffed by the university.'

The open day protests coincide with the release of a new report from the union that looks at the impact working on insecure contracts has on staff and students.

It found that staff on insecure contracts are holding down multiple jobs and struggling to pay the bills. Over two-thirds of respondents (71%) said they believed their mental health had been damaged by working on insecure contracts and more than two-fifths (43%) said it had impacted on their physical health.