25. February 2018 Eva Strnadová

Strikes at UCL

Return to university after the reading week was indeed special. Instead of discussing set readings or giving lectures, some of our teachers could have been found standing in a picket line, which was formed at the main entrance and different places at UCL. Why did we not take the posters with an axe that flooded our school more seriously?

Firstly, I briefly outline the current situation. Universities UK, the employer of the academic staff, intend to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme from a defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution scheme, where the pensions would be subject to changes in the stock market. The end of the guaranteed pension scheme means loss of £10.000 a year in retirement. The University and College Union, an organisation supporting the academic staff, failed to reach an agreement to protect the pensions. Consequently, 61 universities called a fourteen-day strike.

This situation is not favourable for anybody. Teacher participating in the strike will be withheld 100% of their pay for any days they are taking part in full strike action. Despite the offer made by the Union to pay up to £50 per day after 3 days of strike, many teachers do not participate because of the financial impact. Furthermore, the strike is legal, yet it is a breach of contract, which worries teachers employed in a part-time contract and international teachers are concerned about their visas. Out of my 8 teachers, only 3 of them do not strike because of the aforementioned reasons, however, they support the strike.

Are students unwilling hostages of academic staff and their employer? According to a poll of 1,500 students for Times Higher Education magazine, 51.8% students would support their lecturers. The attitude of teachers determines students’ opinion about the strike: many of them hand us leaflets with explanations of the strike and others reschedule their lecture in order to minimise the effect on students. Unfortunately, this is perceived as undermining of the strike and teachers are encouraged not to reschedule classes or cover for absent colleagues. Students found themselves in a corner because exam questions have already been agreed on, but some of the topics are not going to be covered. Moreover, teachers do not respond to email during the strike, which means that they do not help us in our personal study. More than one million student is expected to be affected who can claim compensation for lectures that were cancelled. This demonstrates the business of educations because we are treated as customers who are denied service, for which they have paid, rather than students.

These are sad days for education. The atmosphere of one of my lecture that has not been cancelled illustrates the tension. After having crossed the picket line, I feel ashamed of not supporting my teachers. In other words, I feel ashamed for going to university to study. On the other hand, the teacher is sad because he sympathises with the strikers, but cannot financially afford to join them. He told us: ‘I am offering a service and you are taking it.’ Where is the pure joy of teaching and studying? Does this coin the business-like nature of universities? Finally, what are the future consequences? If they do not succeed, the cleavage between striking and not-striking staff is evident. If striking teachers succeed, the pension scheme would not be changed for everyone, including teachers who received their full monthly salary. Let’s wait for the future to answer these questions. If you wish to flow latest news, the biting magazine of Students’ Union UCL is a great option to do so: https://cheesegratermagazine.org.

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