Members of the University and College Union (UCU) this week met with representatives of Universities UK (UUK), in the middle of what is now the most severe strike action ever witnessed on Britain’s campuses.
Across the country UCU members at more than 60 universities are striking, which the union estimates will result in the loss of around 575,000 teaching hours.
Strike having impact
Now in its third successive week, the strike seems to be having an impact. Negotiations between UCU and Universities UK began on Monday and are ongoing throughout the week at the Acas arbitration service in Euston.
Rachel Cohen, a senior lecturer in sociology at City University in Clerkenwell and a UCU National Executive representative, said that talks on Tuesday and Wednesday were beginning to be “productive”, having initially got off to a bad start on Monday when negotiations broke down without progress.
“Yesterday [Tuesday] went well,” she told Islington Now, “and there are talks scheduled from now until Friday.”
Headway being made
Other strikers around the City University campus, which sits between Goswell Road and St John Street, were similarly hopeful. Martin Chivers, a UCU branch secretary, said that this unprecedented strike action was making strong headway.
“Around a third of university vice-chancellors have now come out saying that they support the cause of the strikers, which is fantastic” he commented. “We’ve had more people out on the picket lines than we have ever seen before, and just in the last week, the UCU’s membership has gone up by a hundred.”
This cautious optimism comes following a poor start to negotiations on Monday, when talks broke down, a failure described by strikers as “either incompetence or machinations” on the part of UUK.
“They weren’t willing to discuss much [on Monday],” said Ms Cohen. “My understanding is that UUK asked for more time to look at our proposals, even though they’ve had them since last week.”
No letting up
Despite the talks this week, the UCU has no intention of letting up on the strikes.
“Fourteen days is a long time to go on strike,” said Holly Powell-Jones, a PhD student who has been out on the picket line every day so far. “I think it was a very sensible move of the UCU not to call off the strike, because what can sometimes happen is that a strike is called off once they go back to the negotiating table. It’s therefore important to stay on strike to keep the pressure up and hurry them along to make a decision on this.”
Staff spending decline
UUK say that the changes to pensions are a necessary measure to reduce the £6 billion deficit that they claim the scheme currently faces. UCU, however, disputes this figure and argues university spending on staff has already been in steep decline over the last 20 years, with the new scheme potentially leaving lecturers £10,000 poorer each year.
The strikes are scheduled to last until Friday 16th March, but may be extended into the summer.