By Clara Gaspar
Durham University retained a windfall of £697,000 in unpaid staff wages due to strike action, a Freedom of Information request submitted to the University has revealed.
It has also shown that a total of 34,930 hours of education was lost due to strike action across the University.
Across all departments, over a third (35.32%) of teaching staff partook in some form of industrial action during the 14 days of strikes.
In a breakdown of staff by department, it has been shown that the percentage of striking teaching staff out of the department’s total teaching staff was highest in Durham’s English language centre, with 11 out of 14 staff members (78.57%) choosing to partake in strike action.
This was followed by the Department of Classics and Ancient History, from which 16 out of 22 (72.73%) teaching staff took industrial action.
Meanwhile, Engineering was the department with the lowest percentage of striking staff, with only three of the 43 teaching staff choosing to strike (it should be noted that these statistics are a headcount of staff that took part in any strike action. Not all staff participated in all 14 days of the strike, so these numbers are not reflective of the number of staff striking on any particular day).
Over 400 Durham University students have already signed up to a class action group seeking compensation for classes cancelled this year. Durham is the university with the second highest number of students taking part in class action.
Responding to questions about compensation for students that have lost out on hours of education due to this strike action, the University has previously claimed that ‘wages deducted from Durham staff, who are striking will, at their request, be paid into a student hardship fund’.
However, in this most recent Freedom of Information request, the University merely stated that this retained finance will be used ‘to the direct benefit of students’ and that the University ‘will not profit from withheld pay’.
The University stated that the final decision regarding the allocation of this money will be made by the University Executive Committee.
Discussing what could be done with the £697,000 fund, SU president Megan Croll outlined the various options available to the University in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
Croll wrote although the money could be used to provide students with direct financial compensation, other means of expenditure ‘could do a lot more good.’ She stated that money “could be put into hiring more staff in the counselling team to improve mental health provision”.
She wrote: “[The money] could be used to help low-income students to take part in sport, or afford the stupid accommodation fees, or to pay for things like trains to job interviews.
“Some of it could be used to fund a campaign in student safety. Could we help PGR students who were affected by the strikes in some way?
“Some of it could be used to turn the SU into an actual decent venue with proper lights and sound system so that student groups can use it, and so that we can run a good club night to relieve the overcrowding at the other venues in town (would cost about 50k).
“We could hire one member of staff in the counselling service for a long period, or two members of staff for a shorter period, so these are the kinds of things we need to think about.”
Demands for compensation for students have also been supported by Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, in February:
“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.”
Photograph: Durham Student-Staff Solidarity