By Tom Mitchell
More than 5,000 Durham students who have had lectures cancelled due to academic strikes are demanding compensation for lost contact hours.
The industrial dispute between university bosses and the University and College Union (UCU), which centres on changes to academics’ pensions system, has resulted in walkouts at 64 UK institutions over the past fortnight.
Increasing numbers of students are dissatisfied the strikes are disrupting their education and impacting the value for money of their annual £9,000 investment.
A petition organised by Durham students urges the University to “resolve its dispute with its staff either by resuming national negotiations with UCU or by other means to avoid affecting its students.
“We feel it fair and just that we are compensated for the loss of 14 days of our education.”
The petition, which replicates similar appeals at other universities calling for reimbursement, had received 5,348 signatures at the time of going to press.
Comments from signatories included that of one international student, which read: “I’m an overseas student and losing [the equivalent of] £1,900 to £2,800 is just unacceptable.
“My parents are (quite ironically) lecturers paying for this out of my dad’s pension and I can’t accept their hard-earned money just going towards nothing.”
Another supporter of the petition criticised the University: “You cannot charge us obscene amounts per lecture yet not compensate us for the contact hours we will miss.”
Conrad White, who first initiated calls for remuneration at the University of York before a similar petition was created at Durham, said: “The university wants it both ways: they want to take the tuition fees money and behave like a business in that way, but then not offer students consumer rights.”
In an interview with Palatinate, he said: “Universities need to take students’ needs into account when it comes to situations where our education isn’t being provided”.
Although the petition has been signed by approximately 30% of Durham’s 18,000-strong population, Durham SU President Megan Croll claims Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) Alan Houston told her in a meeting he “wasn’t paying attention to it yet”.
Education Minister Sam Gyimah voiced his support for students on 25th February, arguing: “Students are rightly concerned about compensation during University and College Union strikes.
“I expect all universities affected to make clear that any money not paid to lecturers – as a consequence of strike action – will go towards student benefit including compensation.”
Durham University has previously confirmed all money not paid to its striking members of staff will be donated to the Student Hardship Fund.
Meanwhile, further talks between the UCU and Universities UK (UUK) have been agreed to try and end the strike action.
Both sides agreed to further talks mediated by the conciliation service Acas, beginning on Monday, 5th March.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “We are pleased the employers have agreed to more talks. UCU tabled proposals which provide the basis for settling this damaging dispute.
“We have listened not just to our members, but also to the many university leaders who have contributed ideas.”
Durham Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge commented: “As regards the dispute, I am of the view that a further independent valuation of the Scheme’s assets is now required and I continue to advocate for further discussions between UCU and UUK.”
Despite the agreement to further negotiations, the industrial action remains on, with the next planned walkout running from Monday 12th to Friday 16th March.
Photograph: Durham Student-Staff Solidarity