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The voices of staff and students rallying on campus picket lines

Nouse talks to lecturers on the success of the strikes and student support

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Image Credit: Emily Hewat

WITH THE RECENT wave of industrial action reaching its third week, Nouse spoke to lecturers on the picket line to discuss their reasons for striking.

The main issues for strikers at the University are the unresolved pension debate, the gender pay gap and job security. One Biology lecturer Nouse spoke to pointed out that she had been on temporary contracts for eight years and in the last four years she’d spent at York, she’d been on three different contracts.

It should be noted that all lecturers Nouse spoke to on the picket line wished to stay anonymous in case of backlash they may face from the University, especially for those at the start of their careers. Science lecturers in particular wish to keep politics and their jobs separate as many feel the politics of the University has no place within STEM subjects, which in the eyes of one STEM lecturer explained why humanities students are more heavily hit by the strikes.

Student support on the picket line has been strong with every striking day, seeing students going out to support the picketers at Heslington Hall and other areas across campus. As one student stated “most students feel it is unfair that their lecturers cannot settle in one place and make a life for themselves due to the nature of their contracts”.

While many students support the strikes, a key concern often raised is compensation for missed contact hours, especially as it was revealed recently that the University gained £392,000 from witheld pay. In recent years, the University has compensated students by allowing third years free gown hire but many students across the country have created petitions demanding refunds.

The general consensus amongst lecturers is that this form of compensation is insufficient as it has no effect on first and second year students and a very limited effect on final year students.Lecturers encourage students to use their rights as the University has turned itself into a business, meaning students should exercise their rights as customers. One lecturer from the Politics department highlighted that “universities are increasing tuition fees meaning students have the right to demand money. The customer - business situation that has been created is not ideal as it changes the dynamic of the University but students should use it to try and recover their money”.

The Student Room recently released an article explaining students‘ rights when demanding compensation from the 74 UK universities that are currently involved in industrial action. It highlights that most compensation requests are calculated through number of contact days lost as opposed to actual number of contact hours. It also goes on to explain that contacting the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) as well as the University has had positive past results. In previous strikes, the OIA has ruled that students can receive compensation if their university failed to minimise disruption during industrial action.

This wave of industrial action is being viewed by lecturers as a success due to the amount of support it has received but all lecturers on the picket line are prepared to strike again if needed as they feel this problem must be resolved.

When asked by Nouse for a comment, the University stated: “Witheld pay from the autumn term is being collected throughout January and February payroll and will be used for student facing initiatives. It is important that we give proper consideration to how best to use this money to ensure it has a positive impact on students who have been affected.”

Industrial action is set to continue Monday through until Thursday of Week Nine and Monday through until Friday of Week Ten.

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24 Comments

Posted on Saturday 4 Apr 2020

There are many fundamental flaws and misunderstandings in this article that irk me so much that I feel the need to make a comment.

Firstly, no the university is not “making itself a business”. That is a choice being made by parliament as a result of HERA. HERA, and the OfS which was set up by it are intent on pushing the idea of the marketisation of education. Indeed, an ideal outcome of this policy is the collapse of some Higher Education institutions, this is because the government at the time misunderstood the market of education and believed that you could make it a product. What has happened is the equivalent of setting up a second Church of England church in every parish, splitting funding between the two and telling them to survive.

Secondly, universities have actually lost money due to the tuition fee hike in real terms. When tuition fees went up to £9k universities lost vast swathes of government money they were getting before because they would “recoup it from students”. That has happened almost nowhere. Indeed there are now 23 (as I recall) universities who have not made a profit in the last three years. York itself has lost money in the last three years (although it had a small surplus last year). Add to this the rising cost of living, greater demand from students for more free things or cheaper housing and the need to develop infrastructure for the long term future and sustainability of the universities something has to give. And this is the result.

Lastly, this isn’t just a UK thing, the education sector is changing globally and this is especially driven by the US. With publishing becoming more expensive and this constant idea of publish or die, institutions are far less inclined to give someone tenure because they could be stuck with someone who stops publishing and this makes them look worse. This is a biggest problem in the UK though where, once again government policy is forcing some notion of competition on a market where standard competition rules don’t apply.

In conclusion, this is not a university issue, the issue is government policy combined with demanding students and international sector-wide change. The universities are far more a victim than a guilty party in my opinion.

Reply

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