The upcoming industrial action at St Andrews remains a source of confusion for many students. The information that the University sent to students about the strikes came rather late, the 12th of February to be precise, just ten days before the first day of striking begins. As ever, the St Feuddrews Facebook page was littered with a few anonymous grumbles between other important issues such as the success of the Rainbow Bop and regrettable one night stands.
“I frankly don’t give a fuck about lecturers complaining,” said one. Another refused outright to support the strikes, saying “it’s about as ridiculous as farmers approaching their livestock to support their industrial action.”
It is not necessarily surprising that strike action in the middle of the semester would arouse some level of negative backlash, less surprising still from St Fuedrews, a page not renowned for its insightful or enlightening posts. But speaking to other students, it became clear that not everyone knew what the strikes were exactly about. In light of this, I reached out to Dr Erin Maglaque, an Associate Lecturer in early modern history who is taking part in the strikes.
As briefly outlined in the Proctor’s email, she explained that the strike has been caused by a dispute between the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) and Universities UK. Essentially, proposed changes to the pension scheme by UUK would result in a severe cut in lecturers’ pensions, meaning that there would be no defined amount that they are entitled to, with pension payments based largely on the fund’s performance at the mercy of the market. This could result in potential losses of over ten thousand pounds a year, amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds in the total pension’s value.
Speaking to Erin, the first thing that came across was her passion for her work. “I love my students, I love my tutorials,” she said. Furthermore, she made it clear that neither she nor any of the other lecturers on strike wanted to go on strike in the first place. It seemed that this really was a last resort, that there simply were no other options for lecturers to make their voices heard.
“We’re not asking for much,” said Erin. “We only want to retire with a basic level of security. If [Universities UK] opened up negotiation, the union would call off the strike tomorrow.”
When I asked if she thought it was fair to compromise students’ education and tuition fees for the sake of lecturers’ pensions, Erin was very sympathetic. “I totally understand students’ concerns,” she said. “But in the long-run, this will affect them as much as us. Tuition fees continue to rise and our salaries have gone down 15 to 20% in less than a decade. Our working conditions are the students learning conditions, and when they graduate, they’ll be entering the same world of work as us. If students join us, perhaps employers will think twice about their pay checks and job security too.”
What was conveyed strongly was the solidarity that Erin expressed for her students. In an environment where students have expressed open resentment for the lecturers’ decision to strike, the idea that we are all facing common issues – salary depreciation, insecure contracts, less and less job security – was both surprising and moving. It seemed that the industrial action was not an attempt to hold students education for ransom, but to strive for a better working and learning environment for us all to share.
Lastly, I asked Erin what students could do to support the strikes. “There’s so much you can do,” she said, “And we really appreciate every bit of support you give us. You can email the Vice Chancellor, even if it’s just a line supporting paid teachers, or you could just offer us a cup of tea while picketing. Every small act helps!”
From speaking to Dr Maglaque, the significance of the upcoming strikes became apparent. Yes, they could have an adverse effect on our grades but, if the lecturer’s concerns continue to be ignored, the effect could be far far worse. I wonder whether St Andrews would continue to maintain some of the highest student satisfaction rates in the country if it employs lecturers who will potentially lose hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time when they need it most.
So while others may not “give a fuck about lecturers complaining,” I do. And so should you.