Home News More strike action set to hit Exeter from tomorrow

More strike action set to hit Exeter from tomorrow

Image credit: Niklas Rahmel
Image credit: Niklas Rahmel

Some Exeter students will face further disruption to their studies tomorrow in a third round of strikes over a long-running pay dispute between academics and universities.

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced it is planning a series of two hour long strikes over the coming weeks, with the specific aim of disrupting teaching. Despite expectations of comparatively limited impact at the University of Exeter, the Union says that the disruption faced by students nationwide will be more significant than previous strikes, with thousands of lectures, seminars, tutorials and practicals at risk across the country.

UCU has also said that the strikes will potentially involve academics refusing to mark examination papers, which could theoretically result in some students being unable to complete their degrees.

The three two-hour stoppages will take place tomorrow (11am-1pm), Tuesday 28 January (2-4pm), and Monday 10 February (9-11am).

In an email sent to all students yesterday, the University claimed there was a “very small possibility” timetabled events in the two hour slots would be cancelled or finish early.

A spokesperson added: “The University abides by a national pay bargaining agreement: so the one per cent pay rise recommended for 2013 is one for the Higher Education sector as a whole, not just this University. The pay offer is made on the basis of what all universities can afford. Many universities said they could not afford to pay more than one per cent without imposing job cuts.

“The employers’ final offer for 2013 was rejected by the three trade unions recognised by the University of Exeter. Previous strike action has caused minimal disruption to lectures and we expect the same will be the case on 23 January, however there is a possibility that some lectures may be cancelled and have to be re-scheduled or recorded later in the academic year; we are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to students. We will endeavour to contact affected students by text message on the morning of the strike to help them plan how to use the time effectively, however if the lecturer has not arrived after 10-15 minutes, then please assume the lecture has been cancelled. We are asking students to let their College’s know if this has affected their module(s).

The action comes on the back of two full days of strikes last term, and takes place amidst an increasingly fractious pay dispute between academic staff and universities.

UCU have called the offer of a one per cent pay increase “miserly” and an “insult too far”, while claiming that academics have seen their pay fall by 13 per cent in real terms since 2009. Recently released figures detailing the pay increases of University Vice Chancellors has also angered staff and unions.

UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Despite another embarrassing round of embarrassing revelations about the very handsome pay rises those at the very top have enjoyed recently, universities are still refusing to improve a miserly one per cent pay offer and are still oblivious to the hypocrisy of their actions”.

She added: “Any kind of disruption is always a last resort, but, after five years of pay suppression and members 13 per cent worse off in real terms, we have little option but to escalate our action”.

A spokesman for the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) said: “This appears a cynical move to cause, in the union’s own terms ‘maximum disruption’ while ‘minimising cost to members’.”

“Institutions will do their best to protect students but this industrial action is designed to damage the student experience. However, the overwhelming majority of staff realise that the UCU’s demands for higher pay increases are neither affordable or sustainable.”

Toni Pearce, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), commented: “Students want a speedy resolution. We need to see the employers and unions getting round the table and negotiating a fair and sustainable pay settlement.”

Hannah Barton, University of Exeter Students’ Guild President, told Exeposé: “I am concerned by the change in tone from the UCU regarding these strikes, with a clear message from the union that industrial action is intended to disrupt teaching. Additional reports that exam scripts may not be marked are also deeply concerning. The full impact of these planned strikes can’t yet be known, but the sabbatical officers and the Students’ Guild will be listening and responding to student concerns. We will continue to do what we can to help facilitate constructive discussions and I will meet the University and unions in the near future to get a better understanding of the likely local impact”.

Josh Gray, a third year Ancient History student, said: “Though we as students realise that our lecturers are getting a raw deal with falling wages and increased workloads, it does seem that it’s us who bears the brunt of the strike fallout rather than the University’s senior management”.

A University spokesperson added: “The University will seek to ensure that the minimum disruption is caused to students and others on the campus by this industrial action. The University will work with the campus trade unions to ensure that any picketing does not disrupt individuals coming to its campuses on the day of the strike.
“In common with other employers during strikes, the University will withhold pay from any member of staff who participate in strike action.  As we have done during previous disputes, the University will donate the monies withheld to the student hardship fund. We very much hope that the on-going national negotiations will result in a quick resolution to the dispute.”

Owen Keating, News Editor and Harrison Jones, Online News Editor

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