Students brace for winter strikes

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A poll of 829 Durham students has shown that the student community is divided over support for the strikes that the Durham UCU is planning this term.

The poll, conducted by Durham Polling, revealed that 53% of respondents stated they did not support the decision to take strike action. Conversely, 39% of respondents said that they did support the strikes, with the remaining 8% saying they did not know where they stood.

61% of respondents stated that they believed the reason for striking, the proposed changes to pension schemes that could lead to significant cuts, were valid, with 34% saying they thought it was an invalid reason to take action. 5% said they were unsure about whether or not this was a valid reason.

All years reported a majority opposition to the strikes

16% of respondents believe that the pension changes are a valid reason for striking, yet nonetheless do not support the UCU in their decision. The majority of these students (58%) are third years, who faced disruption to learning during the 2019 strikes.

Despite this, a student’s year group did not seem to have a large influence over how they responded to the survey. All years reported a majority opposition to the strikes; first years opposed it 63% to 32%, second years 46% to 42%, third years 41% to 38%, and students at Durham for four or more years opposed strikes 48% to 40%.

These findings stand in contrast to data collected in 2018, when the first wave of UCU strike action took place, and a fourteen-day strike in spring became the longest ever in UK higher education history up to that point. A YouGov poll of 738 undergraduate students conducted for UCU in 2018 found that, nationally, 61% of students supported strikes, whilst 19% opposed it, and the remainder were unsure.

The University and College Union made the decision to take national strike action from Wednesday 1st December to Friday 3rd December. Support for strike action was particularly strong in Durham, with almost 80% of participating members voting in favour. The Durham UCU branch also reported high turnout levels: 63% of members participated, whilst only 53% voted nationally.

If there is insufficient progress in negotiations, there is likely to be more strike action in the new year

Research by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that, nationally, 73% of students support this year’s UCU strikes, whilst 69% stated they would be willing to take active action, such as campaigning.

The UCU higher education committee has also taken the decision to call action short of strike (ASOS), beginning with working to contract. ASOS will start on the 1st December and run until 3rd May 2022.

The UCU stated that if there is insufficient progress in negotiations, there is likely to be more strike action in the new year, and an extension of ASOS activities. Previously the Union emphasised that if the dispute continued, the Union would “significantly” escalate action in Epiphany term.

First years made up 10% of respondents, second years 30%, third years  36%, and fourth or more year students 24%.

The survey was self-selecting and did not use representative data to account for responses.

The University told Palatinate that “our priority is now on making sure any impact to student education and staff workload is minimised. Members of the Durham community can stay up to date at our dedicated USS changes website, which has detailed information on the proposed changes and sector developments”.

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