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Last year, we saw university strikes as lecturers and academics take to the picket lines again to stand against their employers in two separate disputes. Months later, these disputes have not been settled and so the striking continues. With 10 further days of industrial actions planned, we’ve shared with you how to get your money back.
UCU members are taking action over falling pay, precarious employment practices, the gender and ethnic pay gap and unsafe workloads. In the past 12 years, staff pay has been cut by 20% in real terms i.e., because of the rise in living costs. Research carried out by universities show that women, black and minority ethnic, and disabled staff are likely to experience pay discrimination and might be affected more adversely than other employees. Many staff members are on casual contracts with around 3000 university staff being made redundant in the pandemic.
They also want their pensions protected. Since 2011, employees USS pensions have been cut again and again leading to a loss of money on staff members guaranteed pensions. Effectively meaning they are losing pay both now and during retirement.
“The strikes have really affected my time at university. In my first year, I lost two weeks of teaching in the first term. There was some strike action in the second term as well as the lockdown in March of 2020. I am now in my final year and the issue has not been resolved, so I face more disruption. I’m on an arts and humanities course – contact hours are low, to begin with (two hours of face to face teaching due to COVID and one hour online). The strikes are going to reduce this further! The fact that this issue has not been sorted yet is unbelievable.”
First off, it’s not your lecturers that you should be mad at, it’s the universities themselves. Think senior leadership rather than lab techs and lecturers. So, what can you do? First off, find out your vice-chancellors’ email address, then email them your complaints. Get your friends and course mates to email, the more people the better. It will soon get tiring for them to delete 100s of emails from their inbox, so instead, they might address the problem. The National Union of Students recently released data showing that 73% of students supported the strikes and 69% of these would be willing to take part in some form of action, whether that be a demonstration or a walkout. So if the strikes keep happening, why not find out what your lecturers are planning and join in, draw more attention to it and see if that will help solve the problem.
There is of course one thing that you can do that will annoy universities if most students do it – demand a refund.
Find out about your universities complaints procedure and go from there. Some may have a time limit on how quickly after an incident you have to put in a complaint so check that out too. Then start to make a clear list of what you’re complaining about – in this case, disruption to teaching caused by the strike action taken by the UCU. You need to know what you want from this complaint, either a tuition fee reduction or a cash settlement put together clear demands that will compensate you. Collect your evidence – make a note of the teaching you lost out on due to the strikes and include this in your formal complaint. You’re not ready to submit your complaint, after which you should receive a “Completion of Procedures” letter outlining their final decision.
What do you do if the university doesn’t give you the outcome you wanted? Well, you can contact the Ombudsmen for student complaints, in England and Wales it’s the OIA, in Scotland the SPSO and in Northern Ireland, it’s the NIPSO. If the ombudsmen think your complaint is justified, they will advise your university on what to do next.
If you think you should be compensated for the strikes, speak to your university first and if you are dissatisfied approach the ombudsmen.