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University Students support the strike

Author: 
Chris Satori

The UCU strike at Lancaster University is now completing its third week. The number of striking days has increased each week and it will run from Monday 12 - Friday 16 March. This week Lancaster University students have been signing an open letter to their VC, Prof Mark Smith, asking him to support the staff in their resistance to having their pension agreements broken. Scroll down for the full text. 

Physicist Prof Smith's delight in the reopening of the Physics Department last week, following a £14m refurbishment, will have been somewhat tarnished by the picket lines outside. He visited the picket line on Monday (see video here) and planted a suggestion that instead of bugging him they put pressure on their leaders to exort the USS Pension Fund Trustees to vary their risk level assessment. 

When times are good, employers take a 'contributions holiday', reducing their payments into pension schemes and bumping up their executive bonuses. Employees continue their contributions. Then a few years down the road when times are not so good, it's the employees who are told they must take a pension cut. Some people stay in low paid or unsatisfying jobs for many years because they are promised they will at least get a pension that will keep them independent in their old age.

So if the UCU wants its members' pensions to be properly managed it's going to take more than a lighter, 'fingers crossed' approach, where they take all the risks and cuts.

You can find out how to support the strike and how to donate to the Strike Fund at www.lancaster.ac.uk/users/ucu/. There will be a benefit gig for the Strike Fund at the Gregson this Sunday 11 March, featuring The Peleton and Friends with ska, funk, disco, reggae, spandex and warmth!

Read the students' letter below: 

 

Dear Professor Mark E. Smith Vice Chancellor Lancaster University;

We are students. We are this University. We pay extortionate fees to attend this university. We work to zero-hour contracts, marking, demonstrating and tutoring because there are not enough permanent staff to do that work. We make up the body of the University, we are the lifeblood of the University and whether undergraduate, postgraduate taught or postgraduate research, without us you would no longer have a University.

Now we are missing out not only on our education, but also on critical feedback and mentorship because staff are striking. We have had enough, and we are angry. Angry not with our hard-working lecturers, supervisors and administrative staff who do so much to teach, guide and inspire us, but angry with the systematic marketisation of education and devaluation of the people who make this University great, a situation which has left them with no other choice.

We are writing as students of Lancaster University to express our solidarity with the staff of the University and with the UCU strike. We ask you, as Vice Chancellor of the University, to stand up for our staff by opposing the changes proposed to the USS pension scheme (some VCs have already done this, including Warwick, Loughborough and Essex) and making your position publicly clear before the UUK proposal is fully confirmed in June 2018.

We have an active interest in the finances of UK universities because not only are we relying on you for our education, but as fee-paying undergraduates and postgraduates, or funded postgraduates who bring research funding to the university, we also provide nearly half of Lancaster University’s income [1]. We stand by the staff who work so hard for our education because these changes put our staff’s pensions, livelihoods and welfare, under threat. It is the quality of teaching which makes Lancaster such a great and growing university.

If you continue to undervalue our staff, many could be driven away from the UK higher education sector. We are also concerned about the wider picture of privatisation, and the rendering of students into consumers, of which this USS dispute is just a symptom. Universities are making significant financial surpluses [1] and recruiting record numbers of students [2].

Meanwhile their expenditure on staff has fallen from 57% ten years ago to just 52% now, saving UK universities nearly £2 billion [3]. At Lancaster University specifically, we are deeply disappointed by the University’s decisions to invest in the controversial UA92 without sufficient consultation of Lancaster staff, and the closure of the University Court. All happening while the University fails to speak up against proposed changes to staff payment that could critically endanger the quality of staff that Lancaster currently attracts. We would be dismayed if savings on staff pay due to strike action were to be included in such investment schemes, and instead we suggest this money is donated to the University’s student hardship awards.

Many of us have already written to you voicing our concerns, and have found the response from Pro Vice-Chancellor Education, Professor Sharon Huttly on your behalf inadequate. USS has made it clear that it does not have a significant deficit and the USS trustees’ best estimate for the future indicates that the scheme actually has a surplus [4]. We understand that a powerful minority of universities [5] in UUK have brought significant pressure to bear on the Joint Negotiating Committee - whose governance has been called into question time and again. You have expressed sympathy with staff and said that you are in a similar position.

It is not sympathy that your staff and students need. It is solidarity. It is action. We, the students of Lancaster University, call on you to exert your influence to protect not only your staff’s pensions but our future as well. Today’s Lancaster University students, the collective signatories of this letter, are tomorrow’s academics, researchers and teachers.

We, the undersigned, expect you to stand up for all our futures and oppose the changes to the USS pension scheme.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Students of Lancaster University

See the letter and all names

 

References:
[1] In 2015/16, student fees accounted for 48.4% of universities’ income.
https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/publications/finances-2015-16/introduction
[2] Undergraduate enrolment is at its highest since the fee increase in 2012/13
https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/sfr247/figure-3
[3] https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8757/Universities-income-up-but-money-spent-on-staff-down-again
[4] https://www.uss.co.uk/how-uss-is-run/valuation/annual-report-and-accounts-2017-update
[5] Michael Otsuka (2018) Oxford’s and Cambridge’s Role in the Demise of USS; Cambridge Colleges co-ordinated a rejection of USS’s proposed level of risk
https://medium.com/@mikeotsuka/oxfords-and-cambridge-s-role-in-the-demise-of-uss-a3034b62c033
https://medium.com/@mikeotsuka/cambridge-colleges-coordinated-a-rejection-of-usss-proposed-level-of-risk-bfced9866c0e

 

 

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