The Stuent Council of Edinburgh University Students’ Association voted last week to support the industrial action of university staff.
The council voted in favour of a motion and an expenditure request relating to the UCU lecturers’ strike that will commence later this month.
The motion stated that the students’ association will make a statement in support of the strike, whilst the expenditure request allows for up to £750 of funding to be spent in support of the strike.
An emergency student council meeting was held on the 15 November to hold discussions and votes for these proposals.
Vivek Santayana, a PhD English Literature student, presented the motion for strike support and gave a speech in favour.
An additional speech in support of the motion was then delivered by James Polonsky, a tutor in both the schools of Literature, Languages and Cultures and Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science. No speeches were given against the motion.
Santayana spoke of the reasons for the strike: gender, nationality, racial identity and disability wage gap, high workload, changes to the pension scheme, and the casualisation of academia.
Describing the “appalling conditions” which university staff face, he concluded his summation of the motion by stating that said conditions are “unacceptable, unsustainable, and unjust.”
UCU members voted in favour of strike action over pensions disputes dating back to the strikes in early 2018, where changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) would mean that university staff could be as much as £240,000 worse off in terms of pensions, including an increase in pensions contribution from 6.35 per cent to 9.6 per cent.
The last round of strikes was called off early despite issues remaining unresolved, mainly due to concerns of striking staff for quality of teaching as exam season approached.
Members also voted in favour of strike action over the casualisation (the prevalence of casual contracts used by the University for tutors, which can lead to staff working unreliable hours or unpaid work due to not enough hours being given to mark essays and coursework) and poor working conditions suffered by many, especially postgraduate students and junior staff.
One topic discussed was the impact of these issues on postgraduates. Santayana explained that although the following conditions differ from school to school, the wage of postgraduate teaching staff does not represent their heavy workload, which exploits their labour.
Postgraduate research students are expected by teaching staff to provide their students with additional help outside of teaching hours.
They are also expected to support their students should they have any excess needs including any adjustment requirement in their class.
However, in many cases research students are not paid to give this support.
They are often only paid for one to two hours in each semester for any such query including meeting students outside of office hours, giving them feedback, and providing assessment for their tutorial participation.
Furthermore, postgraduate research students get paid for roughly 15 to 20 minutes per essay script marked, which includes feedback.
In his speech, Santayana said: “As a result of this it compromises our ability to act in good faith and provide our students with the support they deserve. It also undermines our ability to be able to support students should they have any mental health concerns.
“We recognize that the working conditions of our staff are also the learning conditions of our students. Their fight is our fight. Above all, an injustice inflicted upon them is an injustice inflicted upon all of us.”
Polonsky continued the discussion by describing the impact of working conditions on international students and staff in particular and stated that support must continue after the strike is over.
Andrew Wilson, the Students’ Association President, then introduced the expenditure request, which will allow funding for support ranging from leaflets about the strike to hot drinks for those at the picket line.
The funding may total up to £750 of the £3000 student council budget, with the timeframe for its usage ending on the 20 January. No speeches were given against the request.
Results were released later that day: both proposals were passed, with overwhelming majorities of 96 per cent and 92 per cent, respectively.
Students and elected student council representatives were both able to vote on the support motion, with the latter’s votes counting for 1.5 each, whilst the expenditure request could be voted on only by representatives.
The Students’ Association said in an official statement following the vote: “We have been given a clear mandate from our members to support the action being taken, and we will be having discussions with UCU to determine what support could look like.”
Image: Andrew Perry