A discssion was held on Thursday 14 November regarding the SU Referendum on planned UCU Strikes.
Here is a full transcript from the event.
Eve Alcock, SU President, explained that the SU had called for agents for both sides of the debate, but had only received interest for one side – so it was better for the event to create a forum for discussion. Quotes from some of some of the student views on both sides of the debates would be read out, and then the floor would be open for comments as a participatory event. Invited questions, answers to which will be uploaded to the FAQ pages on the website.
The student views that were read out on both sides of the debate, can be found listed in the FAQ page here.
Questions and comments raised:
Student: If the SU supports the strike, then the disputes can be resolved quicker – therefore it’s in students’ best interest so that students don’t have to have the same impact next year.
Student: I’m a PhD student and lecturer who teaches students, so I have a foot in both camps. SU Support makes the Strikes stronger – increases the pressure at a national level. You pay a fortune as UG student, but the strike is a last resort for staff. Flagged info on national action on The SU blog, OIA info on compensation.
Student: What was the SU’s stance in 2017? Was there a referendum?
Chair: There was an indicative poll and the result was not to support the strike. There are lots of different approaches that SUs can take when it comes to strike action. For example, Postgraduates could be directly affected by conditions that staff are striking over if they also teach. Undergraduates however are more likely to be concerned about the immediate impact on their education by the strike. Lot of nuances to be considered, if you want to read more about these you can check out Eve’s blog.
Student: What does SU support actually mean?
Chair: The University often ask the SU what their stance will be. They take note of the SU’s stance and therefore it sends a huge signal to University – it’s significant statement which increases pressure.
Student: Would Universities UK (UUK) know if the SU Supported it? Would it make a difference?
Chair: Good question. Whether UUK know or not, it still creates pressure on the University to lobby at hat national level. Makes a Statement.
Student: There are some things we won’t ever know as a consequence of strike, but the SU should still support it. UUK will know of NUS’ position to support the strike, to which the SU is affiliated. SU Support has more impact locally. There’s a few ways that support has impact; say yes, and students can also join staff on the picket line. It gives a big and visual representation that there is a united front. The image is important in this.
Student: The conditions of lecturers have a powerful impact on students, teachers travel up to 12 hours (per week) because they can’t afford to live in bath. Teachers who are stressed, worried about putting food on the table. Believe we have a moral expectation to support it. It’s ironic that the University puts on wellness week or #NeverOK campaign, but they’re not prepared to stand alongside staff.
Student: Is there any research that shows correlation between SU support and impact of strikes?
Chair: Unsure about specific research, but a general answer: collective action only works through solidarity, so the more people you have standing in solidarity, the more likely you are to create change.
Student: When we walk into the room as UCU reps, it’s not 4-5 people behind you, it’s you plus 600 members. For Eve when she sits in meetings with the Uni, it’s not just her it’s 16,000 students. Symbolic stand with this cause. When managers go to the national organization for negotiations, the solidarity part important.
Student: If students are taking the sacrifice and supporting the strike, don’t see why national body for Universities shouldn’t know.
Student: SU Support gives platform for student voice, which will show management that students do care.
Student: It seems there’s been only two reasons put forward, deal with the current conditions or strike – why not push for lecturers to have more formal recourse in negotiations?
Student: I realise it looks like we’ve gone from zero to a hundred. The 2017 strike resulted in a Joint Expert Panel whose job it was to try to find a joint way forward, but this hasn’t been achieved. But asking for more formal recourse is a good point.
Student: Over the past year, we’ve made small steps and have made progress with university HR. You would be surprised how many people that teach you are on zero hour contracts. Only employed for the hour they teach you, no sick pay, no holiday pay or day off. I’ve walked through departments and seen lecturers wearing plaster casts because they can’t take days off. You might not care, but imagine most people do. Rising tide raises all ships. You’ll all be working someday.
Student: The point of strikes is disruption to make impact, so by supporting, it gets it done quicker.
Student: Doesn’t strike action solidify the position on both sides? Most people would support the aims of the strike, but maybe there’s a question about how best to go about those aims, rather than industrial action which tends to harden position.
Student: Over the last years there have been a lot of discussions and no progress. As workers, the one thing we can do now is withdraw our labour. There’s not a lot more we can do other than this. We can speculate as to whether strikes solidify both sides. Striking is the last thing we want to do, and the last thing we can do too.
Student: The point is pressuring the high levels, if SU support strike, they could also support students getting refunds too, and that puts more pressure on the university.
Chair: This is something we’ve discussed internally. We would support those students who wanted to do that regardless. SU Advice and Support is there for that.
Student: We need to move away from there being a right and wrong answer. After talking in my flat, their worry is, if they don’t support it – would they be seen as the bad guys? Important to keep the communication between lecturers and students going through the period, as lecturers are striking against the university not the students. Most people support the ends, but not necessarily the means. Hope we can keep the discussion going.
Chair: First thing I did after strike was announced, I met up with the chair of UCU. One of the main things that came up was that we don’t want the strike to pit students and lecturers against eachother.
Student: Communication is super important. Everybody does care about the lecturers. I don’t know some of these conditions people are striking over, it would be nice to know more reasons why it’s so desparate. Do think important to know if our lecturers are striking though, so we can pan ahead. Will lecturers upload slide notes and things?
Student: Practicality, lecturer will not cover the lecture. The point of strike is it doesn’t happen. People are concerned about assessments, uni will not let you be in a position of disadvantage because a strike has happened. Cant compel lecturers to tell students or not, some will some wont. Ask lecturers – whether to learn about conditions or keep it non-oppositional. No one wants 8 days of strikes before Christmas. People teaching you more than likely to be reasonable.
Chair: It’s my understanding that the uni “monitor the impact” on different departments. And students. In my final year during strikes, my department had some concessions such as deadline extensions. SU will work with the uni on areas more hit than others as we’re likely to hear it from students. Unis decision what to do with that info.
Student: Some are worried about crossing the picket line, don’tt want to look like they don’t care. SU could find ways to support without doing that. The picket line can look scary, but the 1970s days are gone! There are strong rules on what can people on picket lines can do. If you get off bus at North Street, lecturers will ask you not to go in. It is up to you what you choose to do as an act of support, but no one will complain if you don’t join the picket line. You could even join only on some days.
Student: How does that affect those who live on campus?
Student: You’re in the picket line. Can see your attendance in lectures as crossing the line, so you can choose not to go.”
Chair: Uni put some information out today. I will add this to the FAQs. “Strike on, Teach Out” event info during the strike. Any questions for FAQ, let us know.
Student: What is the effect of a picket line? Does the uni know if people aren’t coming in? Are there repercussion?
Chair: No, your attendance isn’t monitored, unless you’re an international student who has attendance monitoring.
Student: Is there any way to get their money back for that week?
Chair: To my knowledge, there wasn’t much success of students trying to claim in 2017. The calculation of how much money lost per countact hour assumes that the ways higher education is funded is direct…but much of the money that you pay funds a range of different things. NUS, OIA and OfS have released guidance on how to file a complaint or claim a refund. Advice and support team already getting briefed.
Student: What’s the strike etiquette? If we know a lecturer is not striking, could we attend the lecture, then stand up and walk out in solidarity?
Student: Officially, UCU could give no advice on that, but personally I think that sounds cool.
Chair: Bluntly, it’s your call, it’s up to you.
Student: The pensions issue gives me an insight into a workplace, but how does it work if you put in more money and get less out?
Student: There’s no sensible explanation for it…
Student: But it sounds almost criminal?
Student: The employer contributes to pensions as well. It’s Complicated.
Chair: You can check out info about it online. There’s info in short form on the FAQ.
Student: Universities are arguing they can’t afford the pension liability.
Student: Can you pull out of that scheme as a protest?
Student: Can opt-out of USS scheme…but varies depending on seniority. Those on zero hour contracts don’t have pensions anyway.
Chair: Thank you so much for coming and for sharing all views so openly. We need to reach quoracy in the referendum for the result to be valid – so get people voting!
If you have any direct questions regarding the strikes, please contact email@example.com.