Many of the articles in this issue of The Saint focus on the proposed strike action of the University College Union (UCU) over potential cuts to their pensions.
As the USS scheme has the pensions tied to stock, they are subsequently subject to market risk.
Whilst it is unfortunate that it has come to industrial action, UCU strikes are undoubtedly the incorrect avenue of action to pursue.
The USS pension system is a flawed scheme, as demonstrated by recent events. However, as the University of St Andrews cannot facilitate a bailout of the deficit created by USS – striking the University is a futile exercise in this instance.
The right of UCU members to take industrial action – including strikes – should be vehemently defended. Nonetheless, the strike action that is proposed for the coming weeks will only harm students, many of whom feel a great deal of sympathy for the predicament of their lecturers.
There seems to be a great deal of animosity towards the University, not all of which is unfounded. While it can be blamed for entering into a broken system, this is a trap many other institutions of higher education across the UK have fallen into.
One must understand that preventing students from attending their lectures in a small university on the Fife coast will have no immediate impact on negotiations at a higher level. Although some of the intention may be to bring the University of St Andrews back to the negotiating table, nothing more can be done on their part. If the University was to withdraw from USS and supplement lecturers’ pensions, the resulting shortfall would inevitably be filled by cuts. Whether these may be departmental or even more drastically, redundancies, the result will be detrimental to both staff and students.
Considering the relatively low endowment of the University of St Andrews – not to mention its size as an institution – the problem cannot be rectified at a local level. This therefore places the University somewhat between rock and a hard place when it comes to solving the problem.
Therefore, the focus of UCU industrial action must be shifted away from the local and focused on the national, reducing the impact that it places on the students who are thankful to attend seminars and lectures conducted by passionate faculty.
It is possible to support the plight of your lecturers and still cross the picket line.