Professor Chris Day, the Vice-Chancellor and President of Newcastle University, has expressed support for staff striking in protest at changes to their pensions.
Staff at 64 universities across the UK, including Newcastle, began 14 days of industrial action on 22 February amid a dispute over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme which they argue could leave them up to £200,000 worse off.
Professor Day’s statement was published via Twitter in the early hours of Thursday morning, just before staff and students arrived on campus to set up picket lines for the strike.
“I absolutely support staff’s decision to strike,” Day stated. “I’m not sure what else they can do to express their concerns about the situation we now find ourselves in.”
Day went on to point out the national nature of the dispute, with Newcastle just one of 64 universities affected by strike action.
Day is a member of Universities UK, a grouping of UK Vice-Chancellors that represents the interests of universities and was responsible for the changes to the USS pension scheme. According to his statement Day “will urge strongly that negotiations need to recommence” with striking staff, represented by the University and College Union.
In the run-up to the start of the strike action UCU claimed that small but wealthy colleges at Oxford and Cambridge were given a disproportionate voice in the UUK talks that led to the changes being proposed.
42% of institutions surveyed by UUK supported lowering their risk of pension losses, but campaigners argue that since individual colleges at Cambridge and Oxford were given equal weight in the survey as much larger institutions, such as Newcastle University, the results were skewed in favour of wealthy Oxbridge colleges. UUK itself disputes this and argues that the views of all institutions were considered fairly.
With 14 days of strike action planned between 22 February and 16 March, attention has turned to the impact of the strikes on students.
The Students’ Union itself decided against taking an official stance on the strikes, although many students still joined their lecturers on the picket lines
Nearly 100,000 students across the country have signed petitions calling for compensation for missed teaching time, although Newcastle University’s regulations clearly state that the University is not liable for a loss of teaching due to “acts, events, omissions or accidents beyond the reasonable control of the University”, with strikes at the top of the list that also includes “nuclear, chemical or biological contamination”, “riot” and “fire, flood or storm”. This makes it highly unlikely that the University will offer any tuition fee refunds for students.
However, the University has committed to spending all the money withheld from striking lecturers’ salaries to “directly support students, for example through the hardship fund”, something Day reiterated in his statement.
“We will continue to make every effort to minimise the disruption to our students. I met with students last week to discuss their concerns and fully respect their solidarity with their tutors.”
The Students’ Union itself decided against taking an official stance on the strikes, although many students still joined their lecturers on the picket lines.
Day’s tweeted statement attracted well over 1,000 likes and received comments of support from several lecturers involved in the strike.
Representatives from the UUK and UCU are set to meet on Tuesday 27 March, despite the UUK earlier stating that “talks would not re-open” after announcing the pensions changes.