Everything you need to know about the UCU strikes: why and how you can support your academics.

Emma Halahan explains the UCU strike action in simple terms and details why you need to support your academics.

If you don’t need to be persuaded, scroll down for an email template that you can send to Paul Layzell and other members of Senior Management to come out in support of your striking academics and potentially end the strikes sooner.

What, when and why are the strikes taking place?

The Universities and College Union (UCU) have called for four weeks of ‘unprecedented’ strike action over a deal made by the governing body for universities, University UK (UUK) that would see the average lecturer lose roughly £10,000 of their pension a year in a restructuring of the University Superannuations Scheme (USS). Pensions which are usually paid in by academics each month and then matched by the university, would be tied 100% to the stock market. This means that universities would void their responsibility to contribute to their staff members pensions unlike almost every other employer in the UK.

The strikes are set to take place over four weeks, escalating week by week in intensity. The strikes are completely unprecedented with this amount of consecutive action having never been proposed by the UCU before.

Strike Days:

  • 22nd & 23rd February
  • 26th, 27th and 28th February
  • 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th March
  • 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th March

That is a lot of disruption to my education which I pay upwards of £9,000 for, how is this fair?

Simply put, it isn’t fair but it isn’t meant to be either. UCU/UUK negotiations have broken down to a point where the UUK are now refusing to even enter the room. The proposed axing of USS adds to an increased marketisation of the sector and poor working conditions for your academics.

Yes, your academics are getting paid very well in comparison to a lot of people, but they are also working up to 60 hours a week in one of the most intensive and stressful working environments – potentially also facing gender and mental health barriers too. Higher education staff have been speaking out about these pressures and concerns for years, but with no avail – the extreme proposals to essentially cut their pensions were very much the last straw. The failure of the UUK and our very own college to effectively listen to staff members before this point is what has led to the strikes, not the myth of greedy academics being unable to stomach cuts like the rest of us.

These strikes are designed to cause maximum disruption, without it the UUK would most likely fail to listen again. Therefore, its up to us, to support that disruption to get the UUK to overturn their position and to stop the strikes before they go the whole way.

If I shouldn’t be angry at my academics, then who do I direct my frustration towards?

You pay a lot of money to come to university and you are more than entitled to be angry about this disruption. However, being angry at the people who are essentially victims of UUK’s decision to tie their pensions to the stock market, isn’t going to be all that effective.

More effective, is directing your anger at the people causing the strikes which are our College and the UUK. If you can create enough noise and disruption to Paul Layzell and the College, they will be forced to overturn their position in support of lecturers. When enough universities do this, the UUK will be pressured into conceding to UCU, ending the strikes and giving our academics the pensions they deserve.

How do I make that much noise to get the college to change their position?

We have formulated an email template that you can get here which you are free to send to Paul Layzell and any other Senior Management at Royal Holloway, daily or even hourly to tell them that are you are in full support of your lecturers and that you want the college to overturn their position on the strikes and come out in support of their staff.

In that email you will see we have also asked for exams to be changed to cover only material that has been taught and for a fee refund as recommended by the UCU for the disruption to your studies. UCL, York and Cambridge recently announced that due to pressure applied by students they will indeed be altering their exam papers. Sally Hunt, General Secretary at the UCU, said that exams may be cancelled altogether if UUK do not return to the negotiating table. Asking for money from the college makes these strikes even less beneficial for them, potentially getting them to concede sooner.

If you have already got the email set to send daily, you are also free to join the UCU picket lines that will be forming at entrances to Royal Holloway. If you have got an event coming up you could always fundraise for the Fighting Fund which helps your junior lecturers who are striking to still be able to pay their rent that month despite them losing out on two weeks of pay. Furthermore, send this article to your friends, debunk some of the myths of lazy academics striking for greed and spread the truth.

Striking is a last resort that academics have been pushed to by our uncooperative college and the UUK. The only way these strikes will end before they have gone to their full term is to come out in support of your academics and to apply pressure on the college. Protect yours and your future generations education and ensure that these strikes stop now.

Email Template:

Dear Paul Layzell & Senior Management Team,

I am writing this email to express my solidarity with the staff members taking industrial action with the University and College Union (UCU) and to ask you to re-enter negotiations on behalf of the staff that you employ.

Academics on the front line are set to lose up to £10,000 a year from their pensions through changes to the University Superannuations Scheme, of which you have not spoken out against. This is whilst your salary has increased by 17.89% since 2011 to £301,000 and you have accepted raised tuition fees of £9250. My understanding is that the universities representatives, having initially proposed the complete elimination of the guaranteed pension, have refused to move at all towards the union’s position. When you and your university are at their richest, your representative body Universities UK (UUK) are endorsing unproportionate cuts to salaries and pensions. This is unacceptable and I stand firmly in support of my striking academics.

However, I am deeply disturbed that I will not be receiving the full education that I have paid for. Therefore, I am also asking for a proportionate refund to my tuition fees as a result of such disruptive strike action. It is clear however, if you overturn your position on the strikes, you have the power to stop the action from going ahead.

Whilst I am deeply disappointed that I will be missing a part of my education that I have paid for, I stand by my lecturers in their choice to take action. University employers such as yourself have created the conditions for this strike action to be necessary. I call that you immediately come out and support your employees by returning to meaningful negotiations that will end asking lecturers to take such drastic cuts.

Yours Sincerely,

______________