Hundreds of Lancaster students back striking staff

Staff and students on the picket line at Lancaster University
Staff and students on the picket line at Lancaster University

More than 600 students have written to Lancaster University Vice Chancellor Prof Mark E. Smith demanding support for striking staff.

In an open letter, students say they are angry with the “systematic marketisation of education” and are calling on him to stand up for staff by opposing proposed changes to pensions.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E Smith

Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E Smith

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) walked out last week, joining staff from 64 universities across the UK in a 14 day series of protests.

The dispute centres on proposals by Universities UK, which represents UK universities, to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme.

UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up. Part of the letter reads: “We pay extortionate fees to attend this university.

“We work to zero-hour contracts, marking, demonstrating and tutoring because there are not enough permanent staff to do that work. We make up the body of the university, we are the lifeblood of the university and whether undergraduate, postgraduate taught or postgraduate research, without us you would no longer have a university.

“We have had enough, and we are angry. Angry not with our hard-working lecturers, supervisors and administrative staff who do so much to teach, guide and inspire us, but angry with the systematic marketisation of education and devaluation of the people who make this university great, a situation which has left them with no other choice.”

Prof Mark E. Smith said that the current USS reform proposal is not about saving money on pensions, but that the cost of providing them had gone up. He added: “None of us are happy about this. It should be noted that the amount we pay into USS staff pensions is already amongst the highest of any employer in any pension scheme in the country, and it is important this is recognised.

“Lancaster University cannot unilaterally offer an approach to the scheme without coming out of the USS, which is a private scheme. This is likely to be very expensive and would lose the transferability of the pension between different institutions, which would put our staff at a disadvantage. UUK says it is open to proposals for a credible and affordable solution from any source. Lancaster would certainly consider any such proposals that come forward that we can afford.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK said: “Further talks are being arranged. In the interest of students, we have asked UCU to stop the industrial action while talks continue to find an alternative, viable and affordable solution.

“Both parties agreed to involve ACAS in facilitating further talks to bridge the significant distance between both sides.”

Julie Hearn, UCU chair at Lancaster University, said: ““We were forced into this industrial action by Universities UK. Our ballot for action runs until June. We will continue with this escalating action until an agreement is reached to end this crisis which is of the employers’ own making.”