Ahead of national negotiations tomorrow the president of Sheffield University Students’ Union has warned that lecturers could still be striking for three more weeks.
The strikes, organised by the UCU (University and College Union), are scheduled to finish on 16 March, and are a response to proposed pension cuts by Universities UK which could cost academics £10,000 per year. Staff at 61 universities are now taking part.
“It’s helpful that they [Universities UK and the UCU] get back round the negotiating table, but for me it’s clear that Universities UK are not willing to budge on the issue, so we could see strike action continuing for as long as it’s been planned to go,” said union president Kieran Maxwell (pictured).
Mr Maxwell is also meeting with Gill Valentine, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield, and Wyn Morgan, the Vice-President for Education, today to discuss the strike and its impact on assignments and lectures.
He added the group will be “fully transparent” and the results of the meeting will be reported back to students.
Mr Maxwell also expressed disappointment with Vice Chancellor Keith Burnett’s position on the strikes, saying: “We asked him [Mr Burnett] to speak out publicly against proposals and he hasn’t done that. All he’s asked for is more negotiation.”
In a letter addressed to ‘All Staff,’ dated 31 January, Mr Burnett wrote: “I wanted you to know that my position is that all sides of the national debate should continue to talk, to explore the problem and the potential solutions.”
According to Mr Maxwell, 17 Vice Chancellors at universities across the UK have indeed come out in support of the strike. He described this as “absolutely unprecedented.”
He also commended the outpouring of support that he has witnessed from the student body, adding: “We’re running a campaign called #savestaffpensions. The student response, the outpouring of support for lecturers, has been absolutely immense.”
Mr Maxwell did, however, acknowledge that some students may have concerns about disruption to their lectures and work, and said:
“One of the worrying things is that the University has been sending out messages saying everything’s going to be OK, and there’s going to be minimal disruption, which isn’t quite true.
“We want to be as honest as we possibly can at the Students’ Union and say look, there is going to be some problems here.”
Julia Hodder, a final year law student, said: “I’m graduating in a few months. My lectures are cancelled till the Easter holidays. I’ve already struggled with this degree, I work very hard. So this is impacting me.”
She added: “I pay nine grand up front, I’m not on a loan. What’s going to happen to this?
“I’m not saying that there should be a clear winner and a clear loser, but is there a compromise so that we can all go back to work?”
Mr Maxwell said: “We’re here to help you all the way, we’re here to represent you, we’re here to help the students.
“And to help the students best we need to support the strike, and make sure that it comes to its swiftest end in a scenario that is preferable to the UCU.”
Students with concerns can visit the Advice Centre in the Students’ Union, or go to the Union website for further information.