As UCU strikes start today, Palatinate can reveal that 70% of Durham students want compensation for cancelled contact hours.
Durham is one of 74 universities affected by the forthcoming industrial action, which has been organised by the University and College Union, a trade union representing over 110,000 staff at UK universities.
Palatinate polled 3,168 Durham students, 69.7% of whom want the university to remunerate them for the disruption caused to their timetables.
Jon Bryan, on behalf of the UCU, said: “The movement amongst students to look for compensation from their University is an understandable desire. In many ways, it shows that our strike action is having a serious impact.
“These claims for redress might help bring resolution closer.”
Durham University’s 2019/20 academic year lasts 145 weekdays, and costs £9,250 for UK and EU undergraduates. The average working day therefore costs undergraduates £63.79. Considering the UCU strikes have disrupted 22 of those working days, any compensation for strikes could total up to £1,400 for each UK and EU undergraduate.
Of those students who claim to want compensation, 68.6% want this to be in the form of a direct repayment of their student loan, while the remainder favour the University providing extra funding for Common Rooms, the Student Union and societies.
One respondent commented: “After receiving no compensation for the strikes two years ago, I can’t believe I’m losing more time that I’ve paid for. I will have lost seven weeks of degree time by the end of the upcoming scheduled industrial action, almost an entire term I should not have had to pay for
“How the university can get away without being legally obligated to compensate, I don’t know.”
After the 2018 round of strikes, the University said it would put money into the Student Hardship Fund. Only 15 respondents to Palatinate’s poll favoured this course of action.
The financial effect of the strikes will be even greater for non-EU international students, for whom most courses cost £20,500, with some science subjects charging as much as £25,800.
The financial effect of the strikes will be even greater for non-EU students
An International Relations postgraduate student from Norway, who pays £18,300 a year, told Palatinate: “The strike is affecting our education. This is massively unfair, and talking to other international students who pay the same or even more, I’ve become aware that this is the prevailing sentiment.
“In a time when education costs so much, missing vast swathes of time stings a fair bit.”
Durham Students’ Union President Kate McIntosh said: “Many students are missing a considerable part of the education they have paid an extortionate amount of money for, the burden of which will fall the hardest on working class students, international students, and people on one year PGT courses.
“We absolutely support the right of students to receive compensation, especially as it may strengthen the UCU’s power in negotiating for better pay and pensions for staff. Demanding compensation from the University can help shift the impact of industrial action away from students and onto the University, thereby increasing the pressure on the University to seek a swift resolution.”
The industrial action originally centred largely around slashes to staff pensions. It is estimated that the average academic could lose £200,000 during retirement under plans to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which will make pensions subject to changes in the stock market.
However, in the latest round of strikes, other subjects also came to the fore, such as the ‘casualisation’ of work, the marketisation of the university sector, and BAME and gender inequality.
A number of students in Durham are supporting strike action by not attending contact hours and joining staff on the picket lines.
If the current round of strikes are not successful, the UCU could take further national action. This could include a marking strike in Easter term.
“We should support the right of students to receive compensation”
Alongside the strike, the UCU has called a period of Action Short of a Strike (ASOS), meaning staff will work to exactly what is written in their contracts. This form of action will begin on the first day of the strikes, and is set to continue until Monday 4th May – the first day of Durham’s exam season.
ASOS action could include not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, and not carrying out any voluntary activities. This could have implications for assessment marking, organising meetings, and replying to emails.
Commenting to Palatinate, Vice-Provost (Education) Alan Houston said: “Our hope is that this dispute is resolved as soon as possible and therefore we continue to encourage discussions between all parties to achieve this.
“At this point in time, we do not know the precise impact of strike action on individual students. At present we are focused on minimising the impact of the strikes on our students. We are putting in place measures to ensure that students can meet the learning outcomes of the programmes on which they are registered and working to ensure that examinations and other assessments are fair and appropriate.”
Featured Image: Tim Packer