Strike action is underway in St Andrews, with planned picket lines and marches seen throughout the town on Thursday and Friday morning.
St Andrews Rector, Srdja Popovic, has initiated a consultation on the strikes to try and determine the impact on students.
A new link is live on his Facebook page where students are asked “What actions would you like to be seen taken regarding the strikes?” and “How have the strikes affected you so far?”
While the campus and library were busy with the usual weekday activity yesterday afternoon, spirited staff and students marched through town earlier in the day waving placards and red flags.
Tom Jones, UCU St Andrews branch president, said, “It’s been really exciting, we’ve had picket lines throughout the town. All well staffed and 60 or 70 students assembled outside the college gate…shouting their demands, marching through town.”
Student support was organised primarily by Annabelle von Moltke, a fourth year student. In a post on Facebook she thanked the St Andrews Socialist Society for their help in organising the march.
The society said afterwards, “We were delighted at the turn out for our march today, it was a fantastic demonstration for our teachers, exemplifying how valued they are by the community.”
In addition, Ellen White, a student at the University, said, “The staff seemed appreciative and cheered by the student support (and coffee).”
Lecturers across UK institutions are taking action to oppose proposed changes to their pensions which they say will leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 worse off each year in retirement – or about £200,000 in total.
The UCU estimates that a million students will be affected by strike action.
Yesterday they released a statement saying they remain open to resuming talks with university representatives.
“UCU has welcomed reports that Universities UK (UUK), which represents universities, may finally be ready to restart negotiations over changes to the USS pension scheme. The union said that if UUK was serious about proper negotiations then it was happy to meet any time.”
While a number of university vice-chancellors have now expressed support for renewed negotiations over the USS pensions scheme, St Andrews Principal, Sally Mapstone, appears committed to the position expressed in her school-wide email earlier this week.
In the email from Tuesday 20 February, Professor Mapstone clearly stated, “this University will not be calling for a return to negotiations on a UCU proposal.”
Despite the management’s hardline stance, later that day the Student Representative Council voted in favour of a motion to support the strike action.
Mr. Jones noted that, “Over the last few weeks we’ve seen membership in the St Andrews UCU grow enormously. We’ve seen people come to this issue and see that it’s very serious for the future of them…and the future of the profession.”
He praised the “intergenerational” support and interest, like that of Ms. White who said, “I hope that strikes won’t have to go on for too long but it seems like neither side will give in quickly! I think staff deserve a proper pension.”
The St Andrews Socialist Society added, “We encourage those students who are interested to learn more about the strike and what has caused it to follow and contact our Facebook page, or the St Andrews branch of the UCU. Finally, we encourage them to write to Sally Mapstone encouraging her to reverse her hardline position and petition to reenter negotiations with the UCU alongside other universities like Glasgow.