Following the announcement of industrial action by academic staff this semester, hundreds of University of Glasgow students are organising in solidarity with their teachers.
In an open letter to Principal Sir Anton Muscatelli and Chief Operating Officer Dr David Duncan, students expressed their support for the strike, and their dismay at the proposed changes to staffs’ employment package.
They urge the University to “use its voice to defend the pensions of its staff and to find a solution on a national level as soon as possible.” Professor Sir Muscatelli chairs the Employers Pension Forum, a body which represents Universities UK and other higher education associations, and the letter calls on him to use this position to further the negotiations and prevent industrial action.
In the Guardian last month, over 150 academics railed against the proposed changes, arguing that the integrity of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has been misrepresented and that the changes are unnecessary.
Their letter states that the USS scheme has strong financial assets, when assessed with normal commercial measurements. In the last 5 years, it has grown by an average of 12% annually, and has more staff paying in than ever before. Independent financial experts First Actuarial have also claimed that USS is capable of paying beneficiaries directly from its income for 40 years without affecting its assets.
The proposed changes to USS add to an increasingly difficult relationship between academic staff and their employers. In a joint statement with the National Union of Students (NUS), the University and College Union (UCU) has warned that recent cuts in the value of pay, alongside very high rates of casual employment, make these proposals “yet another kick in the teeth for hard working staff.”
“We believe that fairly rewarded staff are the cornerstone of the university experience and that the proposal by Universities UK to substantially cut the pensions of members of the USS pension scheme will be hugely damaging if implemented.”
UCU warns that these cuts will send the wrong message to staff and students, when viewed alongside the currently increasing salaries for Vice Chancellors and Principals.
As the representative body for students, NUS argues that the imposition of these cuts, in the face of wide spread opposition, will lead to a “demotivated and unhappy workforce”, with problems for future staff recruitment and retention.
NUS calls on its members to increase the pressure on university employers to agree to meaningful negotiations with UCU. They advise students to write to the heads of their universities about the impact of the strike on their learning, and to participate in solidarity action during the strikes.
Glasgow students will be meeting on Tuesday 20 February at 7pm in the Boyd Orr room 611, to plan their support for academic staff. The Glasgow Guardian encourages all students who value their lecturers to do what they can to support the strike.
The solidarity campaign is looking for as many volunteers as possible, to hand out leaflets and attend events. Students have also organised a sit-in at the beer bar, to coincide with the first day of strike action on Thursday 22 February, the first day of planned strike action.
A petition has been created for students to show their support, which is available here.
A spokesperson for the University, speaking to The Glasgow Guardian wished to stress that the University’s position is “actually very close to that of the UCU’s”, and want to see a resumption of talks between the Universities UK and trade unions, also stressing that the strikes are a nationwide issue and not confined to Glasgow. They went on to say that the University is willing to pay more into staff pensions and that “even with the proposed changes the USS pension scheme will still be extremely good value for staff, and is significantly better than most other schemes, both public and private.” This is a reference to the fact that the University currently pays in around 18% of staff pensions, compared to the average contribution for the private sector – 2%.