Strad­dling picket lines

Split in stu­dent sup­port for strike, poll shows

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - So­phie.inge@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Stu­dent sup­port for strikes over changes to UK higher ed­u­ca­tion’s big­gest pen­sion scheme is di­vided, ac­cord­ing to ex­clu­sive polling con­ducted for Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, which re­veals wide­spread sym­pa­thy for aca­demics’ plight along­side con­cern about dis­rup­tion to cour­ses.

Staff at 61 uni­ver­si­ties are pre­par­ing to start a 14-day walk­out on 22 Fe­bru­ary in protest against Uni­ver­si­ties UK’s plan to scrap the ele­ment of the Uni­ver­si­ties Su­per­an­nu­a­tion Scheme that guar­an­tees a cer­tain level of pen­sion in­come in re­tire­ment. The Univer­sity and Col­lege Union claims that the re­forms would leave the typ­i­cal lec­turer al­most £10,000 a year worse off in re­tire­ment, com­pared with the cur­rent terms.

In a sur­vey of 1,556 un­der­grad­u­ates and post­grad­u­ates at 84 uni­ver­si­ties, con­ducted by mar­ket re­search firm Tren­dence UK, sup­port for the strike was finely balanced, with 38.4 per cent of re­spon­dents in favour, and 38.4 per cent op­posed. The rest were un­de­cided.

When asked whether they would sup­port their lec­turer if he or she chose to walk out, stu­dents were more de­ci­sive. More than half (51.8 per cent) said that they would back their lec­turer, with 29.3 per cent say­ing that they would not.

There was wide­spread con­cern about the im­pact of the in­dus­trial ac­tion, which starts with a two-day strike on 22 and 23 Fe­bru­ary, es­ca­lat­ing to walk­outs of three, four and five days in sub­se­quent weeks.

More than two- thirds of re­spon­dents (69 per cent) said they be­lieved that the strike would harm their ed­u­ca­tion, com­pared with 18 per cent who dis­agreed.

But when asked who was to blame for the strikes, stu­dents were most likely to name the gov­ern­ment, their univer­sity or its vice-chan­cel­lor, with only one in 20 crit­i­cis­ing the union.

David Palmer, UK and Ire­land re­search man­ager at Tren­dence, said: “Stu­dents tend to sym­pa­thise with the lec­tur­ers who plan to go on strike, but stu­dents are very aware that the im­pend­ing in­dus­trial ac­tion will harm their ed­u­ca­tion.”

Stu­dents at a num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties have launched pe­ti­tions that ex­press sup­port for aca­demics but call for tu­ition fees for days lost to strike ac­tion to be re­funded. One set up by learn­ers at the Univer­sity of York had at­tracted more than 2,000 sig­na­tures by the start of this week.

Robert Liow, a law stu­dent at King’s Col­lege Lon­don who has started a Re­fund Our Fees cam­paign, told THE that stu­dents “should not face fi­nan­cial pres­sure to cross picket lines”.

Sally Hunt, UCU’s gen­eral sec­re­tary, de­scribed the sur­vey re­sults as “en­cour­ag­ing” and said that stu­dents’ fears about the im­pact on their ed­u­ca­tion “makes it all the more ou­tra­geous that UUK has… re­fused to en­gage mean­ing­fully with us”.

A UUK spokesman said that USS pen­sions would re­main “at­trac­tive and sus­tain­able” and that a con­sul­ta­tion on the pro­posed changes would be launched on 19 March.

Rift half of stu­dents back the strike

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