As staff in UK universities prepare for one of their biggest strikes ever, students are asking their universities to refund them for the teaching hours lost to the protests.
A petition by a University of York student argues that students are entitled to £300 in refunds for “every student who loses contact time due to the upcoming strike action from the 22nd of February to the 16th of March 2018”.
“We judge this to be a fair share of the £9000 annual tuition fee that we already pay to this university that we will lose in the anticipated lecture cancellations,” wrote the Change.org petition, which was started by first-year student Conrad White.
White told The Tab: “As students, we already pay tuition fees and these would be wasted in the foreseeable cancellations of lectures so I have set up a petition that argues we should be reimbursed.”
Though the initial goal was to get 500 signatures, there are now 991 signatures at the time of writing.
Another student, Georgia Davies from the University of St Andrews, estimates the strikes could cost each student an estimated £770 worth of lectures.
“We all want tutors to have the pensions they deserve, but we also want to get the education we’re paying for. While staff are striking, we are giving up a massive portion of our tuition fees in the loss of contact time as a result,” Davies wrote in The Tab.
University and College Union (UCU) members at 61 universities are planning14 days of escalating strike action over a four-week period.
The industrial action is in protest against changes to UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme, a plan that would reportedly make members £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.
Last month, talks between UCU and the employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) broke down when the chair sided with UUK’s plans to switch staffs’ guaranteed retirement income to a defined contribution scheme, where pension income is subject to changes in the stock market.
“Staff who have delivered the international excellence universities boast of are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by vice-chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff,” UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said.
The strike will start with a two-day walkout on 22 and 23 February. The days will continue to increase to strikes of three, four and five days in subsequent weeks (26-28 February, 5-8 March and 12-16 March).
My institution isn't involved in this, but I support the action. Good to see NUS supporting colleagues in other branches on this (a rebuttal for the predictable criticism at strikes) https://t.co/wUvPvKQqro
— Gordon McKelvie (@GordoMck) January 31, 2018
The National Union of Students is in support of the strikes.
In a joint statement, NUS president Shakira Martin and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said staff are the cornerstone of the university experience and that proposals by Universities UK to cut the pensions of USS scheme members would be hugely damaging.
“As representatives of students, NUS is worried that the imposition of these cuts in the face of sector-wide opposition will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce and consequent recruitment and retention problems as staff vote with their feet and move elsewhere,” the statement wrote.
“We believe that the current policy of paying ever higher salaries for vice-chancellors and principals while cutting pensions for those who do the work sends a hugely damaging signal to both students and staff.”