I read a somewhat depressing article in the Independent yesterday about the upcoming strike action by AUT members over pay. It reported that 2,000 teaching and research staff are leaving UK Universities every year because of the poor salary levels compared to those in other countries (particularly the US, where salaries are about 50% higher).
Most people don't go in to academia for the money (fools!); they love the job and accept job satisfaction and slightly more freedom to do what they find most interesting, in exchange for lower pay. But now that occupational stress is increasing (relentless budget cuts, fewer staff expected to cover the teaching load of those who have left, cuts in grant funding), and house prices are soaring, people are beginning to question whether the rather dubious benefits are worth the sacrifice. Certainly, if you are supporting a family, it becomes hard to justify.
The article gave a case study of a molecular biologist who left an academic job to become a gas fitter. He went from earning £100 a day to £65 for less than an hour of work. It sounds mad, but after reading the article, I was starting to think that perhaps I should consider training as a plumber or electrician. Quite apart from the better pay, you would actually get some respect and appreciation for your work.
This is at the heart of the problem — I may be horribly cynical, but I doubt that the AUT's strike will have any effect at all. Politicians don't sanction pay rises (other than their own) unless they think that by not doing so they will lose votes. The general public can see the direct benefit of the work of nurses, fire-fighters, refuse collectors or school teachers, but they don't see how University staff benefit their lives. Some of those who have children at University probably don't even make the link between academics and the education that their little treasures are getting. People just don't see how academics impact on their lives, because it isn't a direct link.
I love my job, but it's getting harder and harder to do with the resources we have, and for the first time since I was a teenager, I'm thinking about what else I might do for employment. Any ideas, anyone?