Universities Minister says students should be compensated for lecturer strikes
Sam Gyimah wants universities to take any money that would have been paid to lecturers, and give it to students.
With UK universities in the midst of widescale lecturer strikes, the Universities Minister has called for unis to compensate students for any lectures they'll miss.
Conservative politician Sam Gyimah took to Twitter to tell universities they should use lecturers’ forfeited wages to go “towards student benefit”.
He made it clear that any universities affected by industrial action should take the wages that they would have paid to striking academics, and use it to compensate students for lost contact time.
Last month it was announced that lecturers at over 60 universities in the UK would strike over proposed changes to pensions.
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Many students were torn between being supportive of the decision to strike, but not wanting to lose out on expensive contact hours.
Mr Gyimah’s tweet was the latest in a stream of Conservative and Labour efforts to woo the student vote off the back of this industrial action.
The dispute over pensions
Sam Gyimah strongly believes that students’ education should not be disrupted as a result of these strikes.
It's easy to see where he's coming from. Earlier this month, we reported on one student at King’s College London worked out she could lose up to 40 hours of lectures over four weeks due to the proposed strikes.
This kind of disruption could have serious impacts on students' studies, especially if they have upcoming coursework deadlines or exams and need their tutors’ support.
On Sunday morning, the Tory Minister tweeted:
Students are rightly concerned about compensation during @ucu strikes. I expect all universities affected to make clear that any money not paid to lecturers - as a consequence of strike action - will go towards student benefit including compensation
— Sam Gyimah MP (@SamGyimah) February 25, 2018
The heads of universities are in talks with the University and Colleges Union (UCU), which represents higher education employees.
The UCU said that unless staff are prepared to discuss the current proposed plans, they can't see how the dispute will be resolved.
A leaked email has also revealed that the vice-chancellor membership body, Universities UK (UUK), will not go back on plans to make controversial pension scheme changes.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said:
Because this is so serious for students and for staff, we will of course attend. I am, however, very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.
In a statement, UUK said:
It is of paramount importance that both sides make every effort to meet – despite the ongoing industrial action – to stop any impact and disruption to students.
Industrial action at universities
Put simply, university bosses and union officials are having a huge argument about the proposed pension changes – but the problem is that it's the students who are missing out.
The strike action began on 22nd February, and if a resolution is not found, lecturers have said they will escalate their protests.
They have warned of a five-day walkout on the week beginning 12th March, by which point 64 universities around the country will be involved.
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It's all in response to UUK proposals for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which would shift staff's pensions from a guaranteed income to a model where the figures are subject to fluctuations in the market.
UUK argues that the pension scheme deficit of over £6 billion cannot be ignored, and says it's met union officials to discuss this more than 35 times.
The UCU pointed out that this change would leave the average lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off during their retirement.
University students are already paying a lot for their education, so it's entirely understandable that they don't to want miss out on any promised teaching time.
When I was at uni, each year contained two 12-week semesters, with just eight contact hours each week.
According to our calculator, this meant I was paying £46.88 for every hour of uni (with interest being added all the time). That's a lot of money, especially if you're not getting any lecturers at all!
Tom Allingham, Editor at Save the Student
Funniest reactions to the strikes
Amidst the expected reactions from students and universities, there have also been some more creative ways of dealing with the strikes and missed lectures.
Rather than asking for money like most students, one Durham student has started a dairy rebellion by stealing £9,000 worth of yoghurt from their college as reimbursement for missed teaching time.
The student told The Tab Durham:
[I'm aiming to] establish an illegal underground yoghurt distribution ring, a Silk Road for strawberry yoghurt, a black(berry) market of sorts.
Striking lecturers have also injected some fun into a serious subject with the #dogsonpicketlines hashtag on Twitter.
Cute dogs at universities around the UK have been photographed holding posters and leaflets explaining why lecturers are striking.
There was a particularly gorgeous dog at Exeter university wearing an appropriate slogan.
— Aimee Middlemiss (@almiddlemiss) February 22, 2018
And Wee Jeff from Glasgow is helping strikers get that all important message about the need for satisfied lecturers.
This is Wee Jeff. Jeff needs vets. Who will train the vets if there are no more lecturers? Private practice pays more; lecturers stay for the students but need #USS#dogsonpicketlines #defendUSS #strikeforuss@UCUScotland @ucu pic.twitter.com/h8LOG8IJER
— UCU Glasgow (@UCUGlasgow) February 22, 2018
From polling stations to picket lines, this truly is the era of the political pup.
What are your thoughts on students being compensated for the lecturers' strike? Is it justified, or does it completely miss the point? Let us know in the comments!