It’s been in the news, but not given huge profile. This is something that all students should be aware of though – here are the top 10 important things….
One: Who are UCU?
UCU stands for the University and College Union. They represent staff, lectures and professors at 68 Universities across the UK. 61 of these universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and St Andrews, voted to take part in the strike.
Two: Why are they striking?
The call to take industrial action came as a result of University UK’s plans to cut the pensions of university lecturers in a proposed scheme that would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement. At a time when tuition fees are at their highest and spending on more senior university roles and facilities has increased nationwide, lecturers are striking to protest.
Three: What about students?
The NUS (National Union of Students), which represents the large majority of the UK’s students, has given its full support to the strike.
UCU and NUS have issued a press release that states:
“NUS and UCU are sister organisations committed to promoting the interests of our members and to defending education. We are proud of our work together in calling for a better deal for students and staff and in challenging the marketisation of education.”
Four: What is being done?
UCU is seeking to negotiate with Universities UK and reach an agreement before they will return to teaching. So far these negotiations have not progressed any further than they had before industrial action was taken.
Five: What does the strike actually entail?
Lecturers at universities across the UK are supporting the UCU by not teaching or rearranging lectures, tutorials, seminars or any other classes scheduled for strike days. Union members are not obliged to state whether or not they are striking, and may choose not to inform students. This level of industrial action across campuses in the UK is unprecedented.
Six: When is this happening?
The dates which will potentially be affected are Thursday 22 February to Wednesday 28 February, Monday 5 March to Thursday 8 March and Monday 12 March to Friday 16 March.
Seven: What’s the point?
The point of the UCU strike is to disrupt teaching to the point where university authorities at a national level will be forced to re-engage in negotiations with Universities UK that lecturers and other UCU members hope will result in a change to the proposed pension cuts.
Eight: What can students do?
Students have been encouraged to write to their Principals and Vice Chancellors if they are in support of the strike. Some might choose to not cross the picket lines by refraining from re-organizing their own lectures or holding their own protests.
Nine: What are the universities doing?
Many Vice-Chancellors have expressed their opposition to the proposals, therefore union members there might choose not to strike, but for universities that do not support their UCU members, striking is the final resort for the lecturers.
Ten: What happens next?
If negotiations do not resume, up to four weeks of teaching could be disrupted with the number of consecutive days off work increasing as the strike goes on. NUS has encouraged students to support their lecturers by not crossing picket lines, organizing meetings and fundraisers and persuading others to support the strike.
This is a difficult conflict between students, anxious about their future and the impact on their degree, and lecturers, who by nature are invested in the education of their students. Both sides hope that negotiations will progress, however talks on Tuesday failed to reach an agreement. So far, the strikes are going ahead, but watch this space.