A set of interviews conducted by The Student newspaper with staff members of the University of Edinburgh has provided an insight into the varied opinions of lecturers and tutors both supporting and refusing to participate the nationwide strike currently in place by the University and College Union (UCU).
The nationwide strike, supported by members at the request of the UCU, is the result of an industrial dispute over proposed changes to the current Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension programme. Leaders of the UCU have denounced plans to place pensions at the mercy of fluctuating stock markets as a danger to the financial security of members’ pension fund. Thus, they have asked members to take 14 days of strikes beginning in February to raise awareness of opposition to the proposals.
On Friday 9 March, talks begain with UCU and USS on the industrial action. Following these talks, UCU tweeted the following update: “There has been constructive engagement and progress on the challenging issues in the dispute. Talks will continue on Monday, although both sides will be working over the weekend. For the avoidance of doubt, the strikes remain on.”
As of Sunday 11 March, a student petition on change.org, demanding compensation from the university for the loss of contact time in the form of a 12 per cent refund for this academic year’s tuition fees, has garnered over 6,390 signatures.
Staff response to the strike has been varied. Nick Batho, a PhD student, kindly spoke to The Student about his support for the strike. Batho also commented on how he felt about students facing a loss of education: “These strikes are a product of long-term problems involved in the marketisation of the education system, as we’ve seen previously in the rise of tuition fees. Students are being turned into consumers by an ever commercialised university system, so unfortunately the only way to attack the university from maintaining this stance is by taking action and drawing attention that will affect the consumer base.
“I had expected far more backlash from my tutorial groups when I announced I would be striking but I have been gladly surprised with how many students are supporting this open criticism of the broader institutional problems within the university system. Seeing the shift in many Vice-Chancellors across the country has also been pleasing in how more people are challenging the assumptions the USS has made towards pension finances. ’’
Conversely, one tutor at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, who requested to remain anonymous, spoke of how they have felt intimidated when crossing the picket lines of fellow colleagues. These picket lines have quickly become a symbolic gesture of support for strikers.
The tutors not participating in the strike action acknowledged the cause. However, they refused to offer support for the strike at the expense of students missing out on contact hours, stating: “University staff have the duty to ensure the consistent provision of the education students have already contributed plenty of money towards.’’
Tutors spoke of how they had made an effort to remain in their offices for the duration of the day, until the picket lines outside disperse, to avoid confrontation with fellow university colleagues.
Although the strikes are expected to conclude on 20 March, a statement released by the UCU announced plans for possible further strikes for 14 days during national exam periods if lack of progress in ongoing negotiations with Universities UK continues.
Photo by Andrew Perry