Many students will have heard that university staff are due to take part in UK-wide industrial action over pensions in the coming weeks. We’ve compiled a list of some frequently asked questions to help you stay informed about the action.
What is the strike all about?
The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), the body which represents tutors and lecturers at a national level, are protesting against a change to Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which provides a decent retirement for staff. The change would transform the scheme from a guaranteed benefit system, which ensures a stable income in retirement, to a so-called defined contribution scheme, in which pensions would be subject to fluctuations in the stock market.
As one lecturer participating in the strike told the Strathclyde Telegraph, the change ‘means huge uncertainty and a reduced retirement income for all: a typical lecturer will lose £10,000 a year in retirement.’
Universities UK (UUK), which represents employers, have claimed these changes, first proposed last November, are necessary in order to tackle an estimated £17.5bn deficit in funding. ‘Without reform now, universities will likely be forced to divert funding allocated from research and teaching to fill a pensions funding gap,’ a spokesperson for UUK told the BBC.
61 universities are set to participate in the strike in the UK including universities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews.
What does the strike hope to achieve?
As with all cases of industrial action, staff hope to put pressure on their employers by refusing to work. This strike has been timed to take place during the semester for maximum impact. Much though this may adversely affect students, the strike would not be nearly as effective were it to take place in the summer.
88% of UCU members voted for this strike in a legal ballot. As they explain in the video below, the union believes the action is undesirable, but necessary.
How long will the strikes last?
An escalating series of strikes will take place beginning on Thursday, 22 February for two days.
They will begin again from Monday, 26 February for three days until the 28 February, then again from Monday 5 March for four days until 8 March. A final week of strikes will take place from Monday 12 to Friday 16 March.
The UCU has said it is happy to return to the negotiating table with UUK, in which case the strike may end sooner, but unless there is a recommencement of talks this timetable of action will remain in place and be carried out to the full.
How is this going to affect your studies?
Lectures and classes run by striking UCU members due to take place on strike days will not take place and will not be rescheduled. Under the UCU guidelines striking members are urged not to undertake any work on striking days, which includes answering emails.
This does mean not every lecturer is striking, but those who are members of the UCU will be.
Staff are under no obligation to tell their employees at the university or their students that they are going on strike, but it is worth asking them to find out as much information as you can. Details concerning how exams may be affected will also be worth noting.
As for students themselves, the University of Strathclyde’s Student Association (USSA) asked that students ‘don’t attend classes and lectures where they are going ahead on campus unless absolutely necessary, to send a strong message of support.’ UCU also encourages students to support the action.
Where do USSA stand on this?
In a statement, the University of Strathclyde’s Student Association (USSA) said: As your Student Executive Committee we have made the decision, informed by Union policy and our relationship with campus Trade Unions, that Strathclyde Students’ Union are supportive of the strike action being taken by lecturers on campus.’
They added that: ‘based on Union policy, which is democratically established by our students, and in line with our organisation’s historic principles, supporting the strike, whilst not without difficulty, is ultimately the right decision.’
What is a picket line?
Picketing is a common tactic used by trade unions during strikes. A picket line is where workers and union reps (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace in order to tell other people why they may be striking.
To ‘cross’ a picket line is to move through a group of people picketing at their place of employment. For example, if lecturers were to protest outside Lord Hope then to ‘cross’ or go into Lord Hope would be to cross the picket line.
What can I do to help resolve the situation?
No matter how you feel about the strike, it is best to communicate your thoughts in one way or another. You can contact the university directly, or by filling in the form provided by UCU. Other ways in which you can have your say are outlined here.
The Union has announced a series of Teach-Ins, where striking lecturers will be discussing with students why the strike is happening, and running sessions and workshops on collectivism, trade unionism and other related topics. These are currently scheduled for Friday the 23rd and Tuesday the 27th of February from 13.00-17.00 in The Union.
Despite the disruption caused, striking staff have commented that ‘the support from Strathclyde students has been heartening and much appreciated by academic staff.’