Hundreds of classes cancelled across the UK as university staff strike again


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The Independent Online

University campuses up and down the country went quiet for a second time in only six weeks, after academics, lecturers and support staff once again went out on strike yesterday.

The strike, organised by a partnership of four major university unions – UCU, Unite, Unison and EIS – brought higher education to a near-standstill as thousands of staff joined picket lines.

While few universities closed completely, key facilities like libraries and laboratories at many institutions were shut, and hundreds of lectures and seminars were cancelled.

Yesterday’s strike was the second in an ongoing campaign by university staff, including academics, administrative workers, and domestic and facilities workers, who are all fighting for better pay and conditions, after they were offered a one per cent pay rise this year.

The unions claim that academics’ pay has fallen by 13 per cent in real terms over the last four years. They were joined this time by lecturers in further education colleges in England, who rejected a pay offer of just 0.7 per cent from their national employers, and who claim their pay has been cut by 15 per cent in real terms since 2009.

UCU’s general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The strength of support for this action by staff has meant it has not been business as usual at many of our colleges and universities. Staff have reached rock bottom with massive pay cuts over a long period yet they see their institutions ploughing money into new buildings and giving those at the top six-figure salaries. 

Lily Cole, the Cambridge Graduate and model, pulled out of a speaking engagement at Central St Martins in London, while at the University of Sussex, a large boat being delivered to campus turned around rather than cross the picket line.

Demonstrations at Cardiff University were popular, with a large number of academic staff and students observing the strike, which took place in five different locations. The main picket was attended by a number of prominent local figures, including Bethan Jenkins, a member of the Welsh Assembly.

Speaking to The Independent, Dr Andy Williams, a lecturer at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, said that he was upset by how the media was framing strike action, and that Cardiff’s strikes were representative of issues that weren’t relegated to Wales.

He said: “It is about pay, but it’s also about the quality of education we provide. Lots of us feel tired, under-valued and potentially unable to teach at the best of our ability.”

In Leeds around 300 people marched from the University of Leeds to the city centre after picketing around the campus throughout the morning. This was followed by a rally during which members and representatives of the unions spoke about reasons for the national strike. University staff, students and members of the public all participated in the day's demonstrations.

A first year psychology student on picket lines at the University of Birmingham said: “we’re fighting towards keeping the university an academic institution. It's a good cause, and there has been a good turnout today”.

The University of Exeter faced only moderate disruption, despite a number of picket lines at different campuses and a student occupation. Though only around a quarter of staff are unionised, union leaders suggested hundreds were on strike.

Meanwhile, just under 20 students showed solidarity with staff by occupying a university building for the first time in a number of years. Members of Socialist Students have been inside the Queens Building since 5pm last night, supporting the strike and releasing a statement highlighting the pay packet of Exeter’s vice chancellor – a prominent concern amongst striking workers.

Additional reporting by Michael O'Connell-Davidson, Ciara Cohen-Ennis, Rosie Collington and Harrison Jones