Keele SU Continues Support for UCU Strikes! (An EGM Cover Article)
Another university-wide crisis, another EGM. Opinions were given, passion was to be found, and I think Ele Fisher shed a tear as she whispered the words “student solidarity.” There was only one motion on the table: that of the SU furthering support for the UCU strikes, even if they are to take place during the exam period. This evening it was announced that the current UCU proposal was rejected, as detailed by the official message here:
In case you have been snowed away from the world for the last four weeks, here is a quick overview of the story so far concerning the industrial UCU strikes:
At the end of last academic year the UCU started campaigning for industrial strike action to be taken due to the USS re-evaluating the pension scheme for university staff, thus resulting in the cutting of staff pensions. Negotiations to prevent these cuts have been going on for nine months, and have included approximately 35 meetings. The reductions would include the staff losing out on over £10,000 a year, slashing their pensions down to £9,000 a year and thus below the poverty line.
As a result, the SU passed a motion during a UGM, as voted on by the student body, saying that the SU would support the strikes made by staff whilst keeping the best interests of each student in mind. Needless to say that our five sabbatical officers, and countless others, have worked extremely hard to abide to this motion. Various events concerning strike action- relevant to the UCU strikes and other industrial strikes- have been held, as well as community events such as Strike Fest. These efforts will continue leading up to the next potential strike period and throughout it. In addition, an attempt has been made to reach out to the Vice-Chancellor about keeping the students more informed on matters concerning strike action, though some feel that the Vice-Chancellor is doing an inadequate job at keeping the student body informed on the effects of the strikes and what they are seeking to achieve.
Before addressing the motion at hand, the EGM also sought to quell the worries of many of its student body. The first concern was that of ECs (Exceptional Circumstances), which allow you additional time- with good cause- to work on various assignments, and special consideration during exams. As it stands, each school has a different policy on what constitutes as an EC, though a letter has been written to the Vice-Chancellor by the SU requesting that all schools take into consideration the strikes and unify their reasoning for ECs caused by the strikes. As far as exams and results are concerned, no invigilators are on strike and so exams will not be delayed, though the distribution of results may be effected. It is believed that lecturers will write a letter to employers explaining the late nature of results if need be. Applications for Postgraduate degrees are open until September within all universities, and all universities will have knowledge of the issue at hand.
Regarding the refund of student fees, the contract you signed upon becoming a student at Keele University includes a clause that states the university does not have to refund your tuition fees when industrial strike action is taken. It was stated that the best way to get a refund would be to take the university to court, which would cost a lot of money.
Next, various opinions surrounding the motion were expressed. It should be noted that students effected by the strikes are not only undergraduates but postgraduates and PhD students. It was widely acknowledged that the university has handled communication between student and university extremely poorly, as well as the fact that pension cuts may spread to other sectors of work and thus effect the futures of all current students. It truly was inspirational to see students stand up and speak for what they believe in, with highlights including Solomon Gibson’s speech on unity between students and staff, and Ele Fisher’s comment: ‘Don’t tell me that any of my lecturers deserve to live below the poverty line.’
Students opposing the strikes also spoke up, presenting their argument on why the SU should not support the strikes and should think of the prioritising students. This was met with comments surrounding how the strikes will press ahead as a result of a choice made by the UCU, and not Keele SU. Tom Snape went on to comment on how there is no reason not to pressurise the university to communicate with its students better about this issue and other issues, and thus an amendment to move the vote to another date in which more people who opposed the strike could attend was not passed.
The motion that was passed, however, was that Keele SU will continue support for the lecturers striking and the students effected by the strikes. Amendments made to that motion are as follows:
– A silent protest will take place tomorrow outside of the university senate meeting that puts emphasis on the lack of communication between the university and the students. Details on it can be found here.
– An action point to make sure that the SU is placing pressure on not just the VC but the university.
So, what happens to the money that is not paid unto our lecturers as a result of the strike? The university consults the SU and KPA as to how they can spend it, and thus it should be noted that it is not donated into the SU and KPA. Though no concrete decisions were made on what the money should be yet spent on, ideas included: sessions that better our CV (such as management sessions and first aid training); benefitting student night life; and the education of students.
But how do you think it should be spent? Do you think that we should contribute money towards Munch selling food that does not taste like ass? Or do you think we should aim to find new ways to support our education? How about society and club funding? Come along to our next UGM, on Thursday 22nd March to have your say! Ah, democracy smells sweet.