Students demanding £1,000s in compensation for lecturer strikes
Lecturers are preparing to strike, but students aren’t prepared to lose expensive contact hours over this.
UK university academics are getting ready to strike over proposed changes to their pensions later this month.
Lecturers in 61 universities around the country are preparing to go on strike over 14 days starting on 22 February, and while many students support their lecturers’ strike action, they plan to demand compensation from their universities for disruption to their studies.
Unions claim it will be “the most extensive strike action ever seen” on UK campuses.
Lecturers claim the proposed pension changes will leave them, on average, £10,000 worse off every year, which amounts to about £200,000 over the course of a typical retirement.
The upcoming strikes means students will face cancelled lecturers, tutorials, seminars, and even contact with personal tutors.
With students paying upwards of £9,000 a year and accumulating an average of £50,000 in debt by attending university, it's easy to see why they won’t just let this go.
Students petition for compensation
Despite the calls for compensation, there is significant support from students for their lecturers’ decision to strike.
The National Union of Students president, Shakira Martin, sent a message of solidarity to the lecturers’ union, the University and College Union, calling on university employers to carry on with pensions negotiations.
Nonetheless, students don’t want to lose out on valuable (in every sense of the word) teaching time and risk this impacting their studies and grades.
As reported in The Tab King’s, International Relations student Catrin Preston is demanding a £2,250 refund for the four weeks of classes she'll miss due to her lecturer striking.
By increasing the cost of university to over £9,000 per year, the government have made university study increasingly commercial. This means that students now, more than ever, feel like customers of the university.
As a result, students are more savvy about their rights and what they should receive for their money. I wouldn't be surprised if more and more students start to consider legal action against their university.
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She emailed the university's principal, Edward Byrne, to say she supports her lecturer’s decision to strike over the pension changes, but finds it totally unacceptable that not only will she lose out on 40 hours of contact time, but that the university seems to be doing nothing about it.
The Tab York reported on Conrad Whitcroft White, an 18-year-old politics student from the University of York who launched a petition earlier this week demanding £300 in compensation for every York student who loses contact hours due to strike action. By Friday morning, he had collected over 1,500 signatures.
Robert Liow, King’s College London student, also took matters into his own hands by starting a Refund Our Fees campaign. He said:
Education should be a public good, but if universities insist on making us pay we will insist on our money back.
Why are lecturers striking?
Lecturers’ anger has been building since last summer, when the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which is the sector’s main retirement fund, demanded an extra £500m a year from university employers and staff to fill a £5bn funding hole.
The representative of university employers, Universities UK (UUK), has proposed that the fund should switch from a scheme that gives a guaranteed retirement income, to a riskier defined contribution plan. Under this system, pension income would be subject to activity in the stock market.
As for the strikes, university employers are claiming that the impact of the industrial action will be small.
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The number of UCU members voting in favour of strike action represents approximately 16% of academic staff at institutions where ballots were held, and 12% of active USS members across universities. They claim that during previous striking on campus, they have made arrangements to prevent disruption to the students.
A UUK spokesperson said the suggested pension changes are necessary and are being made in the best interests of university staff.
However, a UCU spokesman said:
Anything that focuses vice-chancellors’ minds – even at this late stage – is to be welcomed. Those vice-chancellors who, like us, want to avoid the disruption should be demonstrating to their students exactly what they are doing to try and resolve the dispute.
We would encourage every student to get in touch with their vice-chancellor and ask exactly what they are doing to help bring the dispute to an end.
Expensive contact hours
There are two sides to this issue. While lecturers have every right to strike, it's important that students aren't forgotten about either.
Students already have enough worry surrounding finances as it is. In fact, our National Student Money Survey found that 50% of students believe their mental health suffers as a result of money problems.
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This also comes at a time when the controversial Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is beginning to take shape. Given that the TEF could allow further hiking of fees on the basis of improved teaching quality, students shouldn't have to face missing out on paid-for contact hours.
With these rising fees, it's understandable that people are considering other ways to gain qualifications, such as these accelerated two-year degrees which can save you up to £5,500 in tuition fees.
If you feel as though you've got a strong personal case against your university, read our guide to find out how to claim compensation.