University students demand lecture strike compensation
●Thousands ask for tuition fees to be paid back for lost teaching time
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.”