Uni­ver­sity stu­dents de­mand lec­ture strike com­pen­sa­tion

●Thou­sands ask for tu­ition fees to be paid back for lost teach­ing time

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By JONATHAN RIM­MER

Stu­dents at one of Scot­land’s lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties are de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion for classes they will miss due to the up­com­ing lec­tur­ers strike on Thurs­day.

On­line pe­ti­tions call­ing on the Uni­ver­sity of Ed­in­burgh to re­im­burse tu­ition fee-pay­ing stu­dents for the con­tact time they ex­pect to lose as a re­sult of the Uni­ver­sity and Col­leges Union (UCU) led ac­tion have been signed by nearly 2,000 peo­ple. Staff at more than 60 UK uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow, will be­gin their strike on Thurs­day in a row over changes to their pen­sion scheme.

The ne­go­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee of the Uni­ver­si­ties Su­per­an­nu­a­tion Scheme voted last week to press ahead with plans aca­demics fear could cost them an av­er­age of £200,000 each.

The em­ploy­ers’ group Uni­ver­si­ties UK called the move “a nec­es­sary step” as it seeks to ad­dress a £17.5 bil­lion deficit in its pen­sions fund. It will see a change from a de­fined ben­e­fit scheme, which gives guar­an­teed in­come in re­tire­ment, to a de­fined con­tri­bu­tion scheme, where pen­sions are sub­ject to fluc­tu­a­tions in the stock mar­ket.

How­ever, the Uni­ver­sity and Col­lege Union said it meant strike ac­tion now looked like a re­al­ity. Pe­ti­tion­ers claim the strike, which will last for up to four weeks, with staff po­ten­tially tak­ing a to­tal of 14 days off work, will ac­count for more than 10 per cent of the aca­demic year. His­tory of art

stu­dent Sonny Rug­giero, 26, from Cal­i­for­nia, said the strike would af­fect her pro­gramme “im­mensely”.

She said: “If the strike were to con­tinue through the dates pro­posed, af­ter to­day I will not have any sem­i­nars un­til the last week of the se­mes­ter.

“I would def­i­nitely like to be re­im­bursed for the time lost. I 100 per cent sup­port the strike, but I do also be­lieve that repa­ra­tions should be made by the uni­ver­sity for the teach­ing we will not be given.

“As an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent the fees we pay are in­cred­i­bly high al­ready and we should be re­paid if we’re not given what we’re ac­tu­ally pay­ing for.”

Scot­tish stu­dents are en­ti­tled to have their tu­ition fees paid for by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, but those from the rest of the UK must pay £9,000 per aca­demic year. Stu­dents from out­side the EU are re­quired to pay in ex­cess of £16,000 de­pend­ing on the course.

Scot­land is home to 29,210 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents across its 19 higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes.

Amelia Flem­ing, 19, from Lon­don, said she sup­ported the strike but still ex­pected com­pen­sa­tion to cover the fees she has paid.

“The new chan­cel­lor is on a wage of over £300,000, so I am ex­pect­ing them to re­im­burse us for the classes missed,” she said. “I study so­cial an­thro­pol­ogy and my an­thro­pol­ogy lec­turer is strik­ing. There will also be picket lines out­side lec­ture halls. Some of my lec­tur­ers won’t be strik­ing, but it will be dif­fi­cult for me to cross the picket lines as I am in sup­port of the strikes so I may have to miss lec­tures even if they are still con­tin­u­ing.”

She added: “I would also ex­pect my lec­tur­ers to give me de­tailed notes from the classes I’ve missed so our stud­ies don’t suf­fer in the long term. I am fully in sup­port of strikes, but we do still have as­sign­ments and ex­ams to pass.”

Sig­na­to­ries of both pe­ti­tions, posted on the web­site change. org, said they “stand in sol­i­dar­ity” with staff on strike.

Justin Grace, who launched one of the pe­ti­tions, said: “We do not hold the staff mem­bers them­selves re­spon­si­ble, but ap­peal to the ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­fend our ed­u­ca­tion as much as pos­si­ble.”

Na­tion­wide stu­dent sup­port for the strikes is di­vided ac­cord­ing to a Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion poll re­leased on Thurs­day, which showed 38.4 per cent of stu­dents in favour, 38.4 per cent op­posed and the rest un­de­cided.

Last month, the Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity Stu­dents As­so­ci­a­tion (Eusa) said they would be “sup­port­ing those who are in­volved in the UCU strike”. But Bobi Archer, Eusa vi­cepres­i­dent for ed­u­ca­tion, said they were “tak­ing the im­pact on stu­dents very se­ri­ously”.

She said: “The Stu­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion are meet­ing with the uni­ver­sity on a weekly ba­sis to ad­vo­cate on stu­dents’ be­half such that the strike ac­tion does not have a se­ri­ous neg­a­tive im­pact on their aca­demic stand­ing.”

The in­dus­trial ac­tion comes af­ter it was re­vealed new Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity prin­ci­pal Peter Mathieson is set to be­come the high­est­paid fig­ure in Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tion, pick­ing up a £410,000 wel­come pack­age on top of his £342,000 salary.

A spokesper­son from the Uni­ver­sity of Ed­in­burgh said: “At this stage we are fo­cus­ing on mit­i­gat­ing the im­pact of any ac­tion on our stu­dents. So if ac­tiv­i­ties are can­celled, the uni­ver­sity will make ev­ery rea­son­able ef­fort to mit­i­gate the im­pact, whether that is de­liv­er­ing con­tent through al­ter­na­tive means or at­tempt­ing to re­cover the lost ac­tiv­ity at a later date.

“Se­condly, the uni­ver­sity will also en­sure that stu­dents are not dis­ad­van­taged aca­dem­i­cally by the in­dus­trial ac­tion. For ex­am­ple, as­sess­ment dead­lines may be ex­tended to al­low more time for stu­dents to com­plete; exam boards can be given in­struc­tions on how to en­sure that stu­dents are not pe­nalised as a re­sult of the ac­tion.”

Uni­ver­si­ties UK said it was up to each in­sti­tu­tion to con­sider any claims they re­ceive from stu­dents re­gard­ing com­pen­sa­tion and make con­tin­gency plans to en­sure the im­pact on learn­ing was min­i­mal.

A spokes­woman said the cur­rent pen­sion scheme for uni­ver­si­ties had a deficit of £6.1 bil­lion and that changes were es­sen­tial to put it on a se­cure foot­ing.

“Uni­ver­si­ties UK met with UCU over 35 times dur­ing the last year in an at­tempt to find a joint so­lu­tion to ad­dress this deficit and the sig­nif­i­cant rise in fu­ture pen­sion costs,” she added.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the only pro­posal put for­ward by UCU would have led to un­af­ford­able con­tri­bu­tions for em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers. The UCU pro­posal would ne­ces­si­tate large cuts to bud­gets in other ar­eas such as teach­ing and re­search, and put many jobs at risk.”

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