Over a quarter of students at the University have said that their lectures have been affected as a result of Thursday’s University staff strike over pensions.
Lecturers and University staff walked out and joined the picket line in protest against national planned changes to pension schemes. Over 30 members of staff at the University formed groups outside the entrance to the Student Services building, Hartley library and Avenue campus as part of nationwide strike action planned by the University and Colleges Union.
The staff protested throughout the teaching day, waving placards, speaking to students and some even wore University robes endorsed by the University and Colleges Union (UCU) to draw attention to the cause.
27% of students who took part in the Wessex Scene’s online poll said that their lectures had been cancelled as a result of the strike, but some commented that they want to show ‘full solidarity for the strikers.’
Strike action was organised by the UCU after representatives from the Employers Pension Forum refused to meet with Union representatives to discuss new pension proposals. Under the new plans put forward by the government, employees would see their monthly salary pension contribution rise from 6.35% to 7.5%, whilst employers’ contribution (the University) would remain at 16% the value of the employees’ salary.
The UCU argue that the proposals could mean that a current member of staff under the age of 55 could lose up to £150,000 over the course of their retirement.
Professor in Medical Sociology Catherine Pope said: ‘we’re striking to protect our pensions because of proposed changes to the schemes which our members feel are unfair. If this goes through, we will have less money when we finish our working life
‘For new entrants to the profession it will be a huge cut to the pension they will get and they might feel if they’ve got a choice between being a leading academic and teaching the next generation, or earning more in the private sector, they may well chose the private sector.’
University staff were also keen to point out to students today that changes to the pension scheme will hit new entrants to the profession the hardest. James Truman is studying a RE PGCE at Southampton. He said the plans would affect PGCE students in that it would alter the way in which teachers are encouraged to progress.
He explained, ‘now we’re going to have to get as high up the pay scale as quickly as possible, because pensions are going to be worked out on averages now. This means you might get new teachers going for very important, demanding roles within school that they’re not ready for.’
General Secretary of the UCU, Sally Hunt, said: ‘the action we have seen today across the country has been quite magnificent. The support of students for our action has left the employers looking isolated and foolish. We share students’ frustrations that today’s action was forced upon us by the intransigence of the employers. We just want them to change their mind and start talking to us now. This dispute can go nowhere unless we start talking.’
Staff at Southampton University said that they chose not to strike on the first day of direct action planned by the UCU on Tuesday nationally, as they ‘wanted to minimise disruption for students’.
Additional reporting by Peter Apps.