Strike action by members of the UCU at the University of St Andrews is imminent.
Following the initial news in early February of the planned 14 days of UCU action, many students of the University of St Andrews have recieved emails from professors, been given updates in lectures, and briefed by the proctor, Professor Lorna Milne, on the potential action.
Students still await more information on how they will be affected by the strikes, which begin today.
They have been addressed by the proctor and informed that they will not be compensated for missed class due to the University’s terms and conditions. Furthermore, exams should not be affected by strike action “thus far.”
Though the University of St Andrews’ terms and conditions restrict compensation for missed classes due to strike action, students from other universities have launched petitions for compensation due to the plans of the UCU.
One petition from the University of York currently has over 3,400 signatures.
Conrad White, who created the petition, addressed the University of York on the Change.org page, “We, the undersigned students of the University of York, demand £300 of compensation for every student who loses contact time due to the upcoming strike action from the 22nd of February to the 16th of March 2018.”
Mr White continued, “We judge this to be a fair share of the £9000 annual tuition fee that we already pay to this university that we will lose in the anticipated lecture cancellations.”
Cardiff University, the University of Bristol, the University of Hull and Royal Holloway University of London have also seen students launch petitions, which combined, have over 4,100 signatures.
A Twitter poll conducted by The Saint revealed that out of 115 students polled, 76 per cent supported the deci-sion by UCU members to strike, while 24 per cent did not.
Additionally, a poll of undergraduates and postgraduates at 84 universities, conducted by Times Higher Education, revealed that students were almost completely divided, with 38.4 per cent of students in favour of the strikes and 38.4 per cent opposed, the rest undecided.
On a more personal level, the poll found that 51.8 per cent of students would support their own lecturer walking out and 29.3 per cent would not.
However, 69 per cent believed the strikes would harm their education with 18 per cent disagreeing. Markus Hansen, a member of the St Andrews Socialist Society, stood by the strike action and St Andrews staff participating.
Talking to The Saint, he said, “Undertaking strike action is absolutely the right call by the UCU, and the St Andrews Socialist Society sup-ports the struggle of the lecturers and professors of the University against these outrageous cuts.”
Mr Hansen continued, “UUK tries to take advantage of the tough situation that many workers find them-selves in by squeezing their employees even harder.
“The UCU shows that this erosion of labour rights and labour compensation doesn’t have to be the reality at St Andrews and other UK universities, as long as the workers stand together and oppose the draconian measures sought by management.”
However, the St Andrews Union and Conservative Association (STAUCA) opposed the strike action by the UCU.
A spokesperson for STAUCA said, “While we sympathise with staff who face the prospect of changes to their pension the planned strike actions by the UCU will almost certainly have little influence in changing the situation whilst at the same time punishing the students who are not responsible for the proposed pension cuts. It is Universities UK that aim to change the pension university staff receive.”
The University is currently unaware of how much students will be affected by the strikes, as UCU members are not required to inform their employer that they plan on striking.
76 per cent of students supported the UCU’s decision to strike, while 24 per cent did not
However, many students have received notice from their lecturers, either in class or via email, on whether or not they will be affected.
While some departments, including chemistry and psychology, have informed students of the strikes but asserted they were unaware of how they would be affected.
Some students have already seen disruption to coursework because of potential strike action.
An email addressed to third year Spanish students on Thursday 15 February from their teachers read, “This just to confirm, as announced in class this morning, that the three tutors for the Thursday classes of this module (Prof Gustavo San Román, Dr Claudia Marqués, and myself) will be participating in the UCU strike action that will be starting next week. In terms of our SP3002 classes, this means the following: there will be no class on Thursdays of weeks 4, 6, and 7.”
Other lecturers, confirmed their intention to strike to their students in person. Lecturers from the schools of International Relations, Russian and Mathematics did so.
English students saw coursework disrupted on 15 February, before the strikes even began, when they were informed not to prepare their first essay on the text being covered in week four because lectures with key information could be affected by the strikes.
The email from Christine Rauer and Jane Stabler, director of teach-ing and head of school respectively, read, “We recommend that you do not write on The Rape of the Lock in your Essay 1, since you may not receive the normal amount of teaching for that text, and may therefore be at a disadvantage in writing on that text. We want a fair assessment for you and this is why we are making that recommendation.”
Anindya Raychaudhuri, the UCU representative for the School of English, spoke to The Saint in support of the action.
He said, “Vice-Chancellors of Warwick, Birkbeck, Loughborough and Glasgow, among others, have publicly called for further negotiations, or for Universities UK to reverse the changes. University of St Andrews could do the same, and if your university truly had staff welfare as a priority, it would do so.”
Mr Raychaudhuri continued, “It is undeniably true that the proposed strike action will adversely affect your education. … We would much prefer to go back to doing our jobs, but we would like to be able to feed ourselves when we retire. Over the last few years many of you are paying more than anyone has ever had to for a British University education, while our pay and conditions have become worse and worse.”
First year English student Adam Polánek spoke in support of the strikes and standing up for St Andrews faculty and staff.
“I am all for the strikes, ready to join the picket. Every university is defined by its staff, which has the right to a good living and a good pension. If academia, and education in general, is to mean anything, the society should value experts, not tread on them.”
Mr Polánek continued, “Our teachers fight for our futures every day, let’s for once fight for theirs.”
In an email addressed to students, Association President, Lewis Wood asserted that the Students’ Association, specifically himself and Director of Education Zachary Davis, were working to limit the effects of the strikes on students.
“At present, within the Students’ Association, our priority is to alleviate the impact of strike action on your education, and to keep students informed of how this will affect them. We completely respect the strike action that is taking place, and the decision to dispute a fundamental change to such an important matter as pensions.”
Days of action
Mr Wood continued, “We are in ongoing conversations with members of UCU and the University, where we are working alongside both groups to help come to a resolution.”
Adding to student frustration, many students who emailed Principal Sally Mapstone regarding the strikes claim to have received a stock response email, with multiple students confirming they received the same reply, just with a swap of names.
The email, from Alastair Merrill on behalf of the principal, says, “We re-main committed to doing all we can, within the context of the national arrangements, to ensure that staff continue to have access to an attractive, affordable and well-managed pension scheme as part of a comprehensive benefits package.
“If the UCU industrial action goes ahead, we shall do all we can to minimise any adverse impact on our students, and we hope that UCU will take a similarly responsible stance.”
The ‘copy and paste’ response is another criticism of the University in wake of the strikes, as many have claimed the University does not have the best interests of students or staff at heart.
Mr Hansen of the Socialist Society said, “The academic staff is one of, if not the most, important parts of the University.
“Therefore, it is disappointing that the UUK and Sally Mapstone sees no problem in clawing away over £200,000 from employees while she and her colleagues cash in an annual salary of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and retire with several millions of pounds in USS pensions.”
However, in an email to all students at the University the Proctor reaffirmed the University’s commitment to its staff.
“In St Andrews, we care deeply about our students, as we do our staff, and it is our hope that our colleagues who decide to take part in this national action are able to exercise their rights in ways which minimise any disruption to you, our students.”
Grace Gressett contributed to this article.