UCU announces three days of strike action at the end of November
The University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed that it intends to take three days of strike action at the end of November, alongside a marking and assessment boycott in the new year. The strike action will take place on Thursday 24 November, Friday 25 November and Wednesday 30 November.
This announcement comes after the union received a national mandate for strike action from its members. In two national ballots over pay, working conditions and pensions, more than eight out of ten UCU members who participated in the ballots voted in favour of strike action. The UCU is the only union in the education sector to receive a national mandate for strike action since restrictive trade union legislation was introduced in 2016.
University staff have been offered a 3 per cent pay rise this year, but many staff feel that this is insufficient in the face of rapid inflation. “Not only have we seen real terms pay cuts of nearly 25 per cent over the last nine years, but our pension benefits have been cut too,” says Alex Prichard, president of the Exeter branch of the UCU. “Both these affect junior colleagues the most, those that do most of the teaching, and who are also struggling with student debt, a cost of living crisis and high inflation. These are also the people delivering your classes. Bear in mind, we have been in this dispute since 2016, and have been campaigning with students against the marketisation of higher education, and the corresponding decline in conditions for staff, for well over a decade now. Other UK HE institutions and campus unions are balloting and striking on similar grounds.” The University said of staff concerns regarding pay, working conditions and pensions that they are “committed to being a great employer and to providing everyone who works here with an affordable and sustainable pension scheme, as well as fair pay and working conditions.”
Not only have we seen real terms pay cuts of nearly 25 per cent over the last nine years, but our pension benefits have been cut tooAlex Prichard, president of the Exeter branch of the UCU
The last time Exeter University staff organised strike action was in 2018, but without this national mandate from UCU members. “Last time we went out on strike, UCEA, the employer’s negotiating body, refused to engage with the Union. This time, because all HE institutions have a mandate for action, they might.”
The UCU needed a turnout of over 50 per cent from its membership of 70 000 in order to vote yes to strike action, and achieved 55 per cent. “We don’t have any specific demands of our University. We are not striking against Exeter per se. This is a national aggregated strike that will bring all universities in the UK to a halt and is designed to produce meaningful shifts in the way government and Universities budget for pay and pensions nationally.”
Students who spoke to Exeposé had conflicting feelings about strike action — most expressed support for university staff’s concerns, but they also worried about the disruption to face-to-face teaching that this action might cause. One student said: “It’s frustrating, as I of course want the lecturers to be paid better and generally treated better… on the other, more selfish hand, I’m a 4th year who had 6 weeks of strike disruption in my first year which were then immediately followed by COVID, which obviously leaked into second year. After a year abroad where my teaching was still done online, I was looking forward to coming back to Exeter for a normal final year, but it seems this will not be the case. The bottom line for me on a personal level is that as someone on a four year course, I should not have had only six months of a normal uni teaching experience.”
Alex Prichard responded to these student concerns, saying “There is no one in the UCU looking forward to a strike; we want to be at work doing our jobs. Strike action will of course impact students. But we hope our students will be with us on this, as you have been in each of our other periods of dispute. Our working conditions are your learning conditions. Fixing the funding model for HE is crucial for students, in terms of staff/student ratios, and our ability to deliver world leading research and teaching into the future.”
There is no one in the UCU looking forward to a strike; we want to be at work doing our jobs. Strike action will of course impact students. But we hope our students will be with us on thisAlex Prichard
This strike action was announced to students via an email from Tim Quine on Friday 4 November. He told students, “We would like to reassure you that, during any strike days, our campuses will remain open. Academic colleagues who are not members of the UCU (or who choose not to strike) will continue to teach and we will endeavour to ensure support and services remain available to you wherever possible.”
A Guild spokesperson told Exeposé: “The Guild are aware that UCU have voted nationally in favour of industrial action in relation to pay and pensions. This may impact our student community in many different ways. We want any stance and action we take to be informed by our members, so we’ll be hosting a poll in the coming weeks to see how our students view both the causes and proposed action.
The Guild will do its utmost to ensure that students are supported, and we’ll work collaboratively with UCU and the University to ensure students’ questions and concerns are raised and considered in all discussions. You can find more information about the industrial action at https://www.exeterguild.com/industrial-action.”
A University spokesperson told Exeposé: “Providing our students with an excellent educational experience is one of our top priorities and, since the ballots were announced in August, we’ve been working closely with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union to ensure any measures we put in place to protect our students’ experience and academic outcomes are the right ones for our students and their course. As a university, we also remain committed to being a great employer and to providing everyone who works here with an affordable and sustainable pension scheme, as well as fair pay and working conditions, as demonstrated by the recent decision to make positive changes to the pay scales of colleagues on grades B-F across the University.
We know that the prospect of strike action may be unsettling for many of our students and have developed a Frequently Asked Questions page so we can seek to answer any queries our students may have, and we will keep this page updated throughout this period. We would also like to highlight the resources that are available to support our students, if needed. This includes our self-help tool, SilverCloud and our Wellbeing Services at both the Exeter and Cornwall campuses.”
Article from print issue 737.