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The News Line: Feature LECTURERS UNPRECEDENTED 14 DAYS OF STRIKE ACTION
Striking university lecturers on the picket line at Imperial College are presented with a box of biscuits by a supporter
LECTURERS in over 60 universities have in the past fortnight taken nine days of strike action throughout Britain over cuts to their pensions. With lecturers, members of the UCU union, determined to carry out a further five days of strike action there have been numerous cases of unfair deductions of salaries by the universities and even the use of recorded lectures.

Edinburgh University has come under fire over plans to try and break the pensions strike with out-of-date recorded lectures. In an escalation of the dispute over cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension, it has emerged that the university’s law school is trying to use old recordings of lectures made in previous years in an attempt to break the strike.

The strike, which is now in its third week, is over cuts to the USS pension scheme which would see a typical lecturer lose around £10,000 a year in retirement. Lecturers and related academic professional staff in nine other Scottish universities are also taking part in the action in which staff are taking an unprecedented 14 days of action.

In the strike ballot 87% of UCU members backed strike action with the turnout in Scotland 63%.
The practice of universities recording lectures is a grey area. While there are legitimate reasons for doing so around accessibility, for example if a student needs to be able to listen again to a recording, it is important that the lecturer whose work is being recorded gives their consent. Lecturers participating in the strike action have not given their consent for any recordings to be played to students while they are standing outside on a picket line.

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said: ‘It’s bad enough that the new principal at Edinburgh has sat on his hands and not taken steps to resolve the dispute over cuts to his employees’ pensions until now, but it’s quite another thing for Edinburgh University to be proactively taking steps to break the strike in this underhand way. ‘Students deserve the full attention of lecturers and not out-of-date recordings recycled by university management. If the university doesn’t stop using these recordings in this way then they’re letting down both their staff and students.’

Student leaders also attacked using recorded lectures in this way. NUS Scotland vice-president education Jodie Waite said: ‘The idea of serving up recordings of classes from years gone by, all in the name of undermining staff and lecturers’ campaign for fair terms and conditions, beggars belief. Staff and students deserve better. ‘Good lectures can’t just be reduced to re-runs, they should be engaging and relevant to the time in which they’re delivered. Using recorded lectures in this way completely undermines their intended use and true value: to make education more accessible.
‘We’d be deeply concerned if any institution saw this as a legitimate proposal. The only positive solution to these strikes for students is universities getting round the negotiating table and reaching an agreement with their staff – not looking for shortcuts or get outs.’

• The UCU has called on the University of Surrey senior management to drop 100% deductions for action short of a strike. The union said: ‘As you may know, university staff at 64 institutions are currently engaged in industrial action to defend their pensions against the drastic cuts proposed by UUK. ‘The University of Surrey is one of these 64 universities. Unfortunately, as far as the UCU is aware, the University of Surrey is one of only a tiny handful of universities planning to deduct 100% for action short of a strike.

‘The proposed 100% deductions for Action Short of a Strike are unfair. This punitive measure seeks to deduct wages twice for the same thing – once for being on strike, and then again for not subsequently doing the work not done owing to being on strike. ‘Requiring staff to reschedule in this way is unprecedented, highly impractical, and would be a cause of both staff and student work overload, contrary to the principle of duty of care.

‘The vice-chancellor at a prestigious Scottish University, who has recently changed her mind and adopted a much less punitive stance, has labelled such measures as “unfair and clearly counter-productive” and that such a policy would be “inconsistent with this university’s values and the store we place on our shared sense of community”. ‘The UCU is calling on the University of Surrey senior management to drop their punitive plan to deduct 100% from wages for refusing to reschedule lectures or classes, or to cover the work of absent colleagues as industrial action short of a strike. ‘An additional concern is that the University of Surrey will continue to make pension payments on the understanding that colleagues taking action will respond to the university’s requests for notification in advance of action taking place.

‘This pressure to declare strike action ahead of time is designed to mitigate the effects of industrial action, forcing the rescheduling of work, which in effect makes the action meaningless. ‘UCU members are already taking a cut in their pay in order to take a stand. They have not made the decision to take strike action lightly. ‘Within this dispute, University of Surrey is proving to have one of the most punitive management cultures in the country. These punitive measures affect early career staff the most, particularly those on hourly-paid contracts, and we urge alumni, students, external examiners and staff working within academia to sign this letter to urge the University of Surrey to reconsider its position. ‘The UCU calls on the University of Surrey to drop 100% deductions for action short of a strike.’

Meanwhile, PhD student at Kent University, Leon Schoonderwoerd, has gone on strike in solidarity with his colleagues. ‘Out of concerns about the commodification of higher education I refuse to fulfil my teaching duties,’ he said. Schoonderwoerd continued: ‘I strike to protest changes to a pension scheme my income does not afford me to pay into. I strike to show managers that you cannot treat a university like it is a corporation.

‘In reaction “my” university has decided to take the harshest option deducting £37 for every hour I refuse to teach. ‘This could amount to a deduction of over £500, or almost twice my monthly salary. It should be obvious my salary does not equate to £37 per hour for the hours I work. ‘For protesting a decision that would affect younger researchers like myself the most, “my” university has decided to punish its most vulnerable employees the hardest. This is ridiculous. This is cruel. This is unnecessary. This will not stop me from taking action.

‘Finally a message to upper management. Without you, the university might be in trouble. Without lecturers, PhD students, teaching assistants or support staff, the university would not exist. We are not here to help you do your jobs; you are here to help us do ours. You work for us.’
 
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