Trade unions of academics on ensuring the attractiveness of the teaching profession in times of crises


The Higher Education and Research Standing Committee (HERSC) of ETUCE members meeting was held on 28-29 September 2022.  Approximately 30 members from 20 countries who represent trade unions of academics and researchers attended the event. The main issue addressed was how to guarantee the attractiveness of the teaching profession, recently threatened by the impact of the Russian war on Ukrainian academics and students. Additionally, it has been affected by the deteriorating health and safety conditions of academics, including the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education staff.

As for the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine on the universities, academic and their students, Kateryna Malyuta-Osaulova, representing the Ukrainian trade union (TUESWU), gave a general overview of the  harsh challenges experienced by the staff of the higher education sector.  In this regard, minimum and decent standards of working conditions are not guaranteed for Ukrainian teachers,  given the destruction of over 2000 educational facilities, the military interference in the educational process and planned salary cuts for next year Moreover, she emphasised the need to adjust the school periods to cope with the approaching cold season, starting school and universities earlier than usual (mid-August) with additional classes on Saturdays in order to begin the second semester later (February). During the meeting, a representative from the European Commission reaffirmed the  commitment to supporting educators and students in Ukraine through multiple programs, including expanding access of Ukrainian students to Erasmus+ study mobility and ensuring the recognition of Ukrainian qualifications in Europe. For example, the Commission initiative, MSCA4Ukraine will enable displaced researchers to continue their work at academic and non-academic organisations in EU Member States, while maintaining their connections to research and innovation communities in Ukraine. The Commission representative highlighted the need to launch initiatives which would avoid brain drain and help reintegrating people in Ukraine when the war ends. Overall, education and research trade unions confirmed  their solidarity with ETUCE member organisations in Ukraine. They also shared  initiatives taken at national level to support Ukrainian academics, researchers,  and students. In some EU countries, support has been provided in terms of scholarships to scholars and demanding decent salary for Ukrainian teachers and academics  in the host country. Yet, the participants highlighted the need of granting effective long-term solidarity measures towards people fleeing Ukraine in every single EU country.

Another core issue, related to the attractiveness of the teaching profession, lies in occupational health and safety. In this regard, the trade unions of academics considered several psychosocial factors which undermine the health and wellbeing of researchers and teachers in higher educational institutions. Precarity, low job satisfaction, excessive workloads, salary levels, among others, were mentioned. The increase of digitalization in the workplace, due to COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbated these problems, challenging the autonomy of the teaching profession and its quality.  A further major cause of physical and mental issues is the high workload and pressure on academics and researchers deriving from the obligation   to apply for external financial support (eg projects)  for the university, due to the lack of public funding. Looking ahead, the trade unions of academics identified practices carried out by European countries to alleviate these issues, such as providing psychological support to the higher education and research sector, ensuring salary protection, guaranteeing transparent careers paths.

Finally, trade unions of academics concluded the meeting by emphasizing the essential role of social dialogue in guaranteeing the attractiveness of the teaching profession. The members acknowledged that strike action is a last resort for trade union members to call on national governments and employers to take action. In light of this, the ongoing strike action in the UK, Norway and Kosovo demonstrates the need to strengthen social dialogue. Education trade unions will continue to lobby governments and academic institutions to secure the rights of workers in higher education during these times of crises.