Shruti explained that Education Zone had voted against supporting the previous two strikes involving University staff, and that Union Policy "Industrial Action by University Staff" required two votes to be held - first whether the Union would support the dispute, and then to decide whether it supports the industrial action. It was also explained that Education Zone Committee is required to make a decision, because the first action is scheduled to be held before the next meeting of Union Council (6 June).
Shruti explained the context to the dispute - that there has been a 14.5% fall in pay over the last 6 years. The possible impacts of strike action would be disruption to lectures, marking, PhD vivas and exams and also if the dispute is not settled there has been more action threatened over summer, which would affect clearing and admissions after A Level results in August. It was explained that the University is putting measures in place to prepare for these disruptions to minimise any impact.
Madeleine asked about which University staff would be affected. Darren said that typically staff below pay grade 4 are represented by a different union so would not be striking.
Frazer also asked what the turnout was to UCU’s ballot to make the decision to strike. Darren said that it was around 30%. Mike said that he was surprised by the low turnout for such an important decision. Darren said that many members might come from cultural backgrounds where taking industrial action is rare.
The Committee discussed the previous strike and how there didn’t seem to be that much disruption. Darren said that last time they voted for "Action Short of Strike" meaning that only teaching staff could have a meaningful impact.
Madeleine asked whether the dispute was purely a pay related issue. Darren said that it was but there were other issues they would like to see addressed, such as equal opportunities for women for top academic positions.
The Committee discussed PGR students who also teach who might be members of UCU. Darren said that there were only about 35 UCU PGR members. Mike said that the demonstrator rate is also linked to the dispute, so many PGR students still have an interest in the outcome.
Madeleine asked about the impact on undergraduate exams. Darren said that it wouldn’t directly affect exams before 25th May and Shruti said that the University is putting measures in place to ensure marking isn’t delayed.
Giles raised the issue of marking. Darren said that UCU is encouraging lecturers to resign their external examiner posts (from other universities), which could result in exam boards being unable to take place, which could cause delays to marking exams.
Madeleine said that it’s really important to communicate to students what the possible impact could be. Shruti said that she was hoping to get an all student email out to students.
Frazer and Madeleine both said that there is a big issue of marking and feedback being back on time in Humanities and that they couldn’t support action that would make this issue worse.
- On a vote, the Committee decided to support the dispute (Yes: 5, No: 2, Abstain: 1).
The Committee then voted on whether to support the industrial action. The first result was Yes: 3, No: 3, Abstain: 2.
It was explained that in the event of a tie, the Chair is able to use her casting vote to make a decision. Shruti explained the difficulty of supporting action that would affect students’ education experience, whilst understanding the lecturers’ situation and the long-term impact on Higher Education.
Mike said that supporting the dispute but not supporting the action wouldn’t make sense when you know exactly what the action will be. The Union represents current students but also needs to think about future students and the long term detrimental effect of the pay issue on higher education.
Frazer said student officers are elected and accountable to students that voted for them and couldn’t support action that would increase issues in his Faculty.
Ben indicated that he like to vote to support the action, explaining that the Union has a long-term responsibility to protect the higher education environment for future students.
Shruti said that she would also be in favour of supporting the action to ensure that University staff are treated fairly, and that students in the future get the same level of teaching that current students have had.
- On a vote, the Committee decided to support the industrial action (Yes: 5, No: 2, Abstain 1).
The Committee discussed the various options for what they could do to support the action and agreed to:
- Encourage students to talk to lectures on strike.
- Put out social media posts showing support.
- Send out an all student email to fully inform students about the situation.
- Speak to UCU about minimising disruption to people studying.
- Get a quote from UCU for Shruti’s blog.
Shruti said that the next steps would be to tell the University of the Union’s position and then let the students know before the issue goes to Union Council for further discussion at the next meeting on 6 June.