Categories
News

Debates Union hosts discussion panel on lecturer strikes

This article was originally submitted on the 14th March

On Wednesday the 9th of February, Edinburgh University Debates Union hosted a discussion panel on the upcoming lecturer strikes.

The discussion was designed to give students a better understanding of some of the issues that lecturers are currently facing within the University of Edinburgh, as well as other universities across the UK.

The panel was also open to questions, inviting students to come forth and get a better understanding of why industrial action is so crucial at this time, and why the lecturers feel that they are not being well taken care of by the institution that should be looking after their interests as valued members of staff. 

The topics discussed included the University and College Union (UCU) ‘four fights’, the history of the strikes, the impact that the strikes are having on students, what the university is failing to do and what could be improved upon by the university. 

Some of the issues that staff are striking over include a 35% cut to their pensions, ongoing pay cuts, an increased casualisation of staff contracts, equality pay gaps – especially in terms of gender, race and disability – as well as unsafe workloads. 

Commenting for The Student, the Debates Union events coordinator, Alex Thompson, has provided a statement regarding the issues surrounding the strikes and why it is crucial that students remain well informed:

“As higher education returns to a more stable normality the issue of staff pensions and strikes is once again top of the agenda. With a ten-day strike starting next week it is more crucial than ever that students are informed about these incredibly important issues which is why Edinburgh Debates Union has put together a panel of UCU officials and MSPs to discuss the problem at length.”

The panel discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has really forced people into having richer conversations about how the university respects its staff. 

One of the UCU members stated that “people do not focus on how it was the work of university staff who worked on the groundbreaking research that led to the COVID-19 vaccine, allowing the country to move forward.”

Students are well aware of the effect that these strikes have had on their education. In response to some of the backlash lecturers have received from students, a member of the UCU stated:

“We understand that university, is on some level, a transactional interaction between the institution and its students, the students are the consumer.

“However, what needs to be brought to light is that there is an interconnectivity between lecturers and students that has to be acknowledged. Both the lecturers and the students are both in the same educational environment and if lecturers are not being given their dues and are unhappy with their working conditions, this affects the level and quality of the teaching that is delivered.”

Commenting for The Student, a third-year student James Balmer has revealed some of his opinions regarding the industrial action:

“The strikes have split my political conscious [sic] as I can see both sides of the issue. I can see why the lecturers are struggling as they deserve more than the university is currently giving them. However I do feel that some students have really gotten the short end of the stick as students of my year in particular, have been caught in the cross-fire with strikes occurring in our first year, COVID-19 in our second, and just as classes start to return to normal there are strikes yet again.”

The panel highlighted how this is an ongoing issue and while there was a break in in-person teaching due to the pandemic, this is still a problem that requires immediate action. The UCU members emphasised how if things do not start changing, these great educational institutions will start to fall apart. 

One of the UCU members stated that, ‘it is important that a career in academia remains attractive for future generations to come, as it is truly rewarding working with students, and this is one of the many reasons that the problems that staff are continuously faced with must be addressed.’

The panel also touched upon how it is important that the university understand that these institutions are one of the greatest things about Scotland. 

The importance of student involvement was also stressed, as without the ongoing support of students, change is less likely to occur. 

Image courtesy of Eliška Suchochlebová