The UCU strike over proposed changes to UK University staff pensions is set to begin on Thursday, lasting for fourteen working days over the course of the next four weeks. In the lead up to these strikes, many students have voice their support and their intentions to join picket lines and campaign on behalf of striking staff. Students have also published an open letter to Principal and Vice Chancellor Sir Anton Muscatelli and Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary Dr David Duncan, expressing their solidarity with ‘staff who work tirelessly to support our education’, which qmunicate would encourage all students who support a fair University workplace to sign. qmunicate spoke to students organising in solidarity with the strike to find out what the strike means to them, why they’re supporting their lecturers, and what motivates them to organise.
‘I support the strike for many reasons. Firstly this is a real impact on the people getting us through our degrees, our lecturers teach us the content, teach us important skills and often put extra effort in to really help us get the grades we want, the last thing they deserve is to lose out. Secondly, these changes won’t just affect those working in universities now, it will affect the next generation, and the generations after. Every student who wishes to enter academia, or just end up working within a university context will be affected by these changes, and any other changes after the movement down the slippery slope. We need to support our staff, not only because they support us, but because one day we could be in their position.’
- Emily Parrett, 18, 1st Year Psychology
‘I support the strike because I believe higher education should be kept off the market! A financially secure retirement is a basic right that should be protected, which is not the aim with this scheme reform. The effectiveness of the strike depends on how disruptive it is, therefore it is crucial to not turn on the strikers; put the blame where it belongs!’
- Felicia Magdalinski, 20, 1st Year Politics
‘I think its good to show support for staff and spread the message that they are not in the wrong by striking and have every right to! There’s been a lot of abuse directed towards staff on social media with people demanding refunds etc so hopefully by expressing support these people will direct their resentment towards the actual unis rather than lecturers who just want a decent pension.’
- Marissa Trimble, 20, 3rd Year Classics
‘I support the strikes as it is unfair that chancellors and principals receive pay rises while the lecturers, the cornerstones of the University, have their pensions slashed.’
- William Lim
‘I support the strike because, as an American student studying in the United Kingdom, I’m all too familiar with what happens when higher education is treated like a business. I’ve seen first-hand what happens when staff benefits are slashed to ribbons, employment security goes out the window and resources for students are always the next on the chopping block after professors and lecturers get taken down. The temporary disruption of the strike will prevent the destruction of higher education in the United Kingdom.’
- Ryan Smith, 1st Year PhD Economic & Social History
Dr David Duncan, Chief Operating Officer of the University of Glasgow, gave this statement on behalf of the university.
‘Since last week’s update in MyGlasgow, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced that it is asking members to take part in 14 days of strike action over a four week period commencing on 22 February. This is in response to the potential reform of USS Pension benefits and follows a ballot of UCU members, which on a turnout of 57.4% provided a mandate for strike action and action short of a strike.
Last week, the UK-wide Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) decided to recommend closure of the existing defined benefits scheme and move to a defined contributions scheme only. Like the UCU, the University of Glasgow will continue to call for further discussions at national level to identify terms that are acceptable to all parties.
The University respects union members’ right to take industrial action but we will do all that we can to minimize the potential impact on our students, especially given the prolonged nature of the proposed action. Colleagues who are in the UCU – approximately 25% of academic and professional support staff – are therefore asked to consider carefully before deciding whether or not to participate in the strike days.
The University has already communicated a clear position on pensions. We would like to keep the best possible terms for staff and are prepared to support a modest increase in employer contributions.
We hope that a settlement can be agreed prior to the first planned strike date of 22 February, but will shortly be issuing advice and guidance for both line managers and staff on what to do in the event that industrial action goes ahead.’
[Clare Patterson – @clarepttrsn]