Over the last two days lecturers across the University have been striking as part of a national University and Colleges Union (UCU) action, demanding better pensions, pay and conditions from their institutions. Simultaneously the University of Nottingham Students Union (UoNSU) held a referendum, asking students what their official position should be on the strikes. Impact’s Sarina Rivlin-Sanders reports.
891 votes (81%) were cast in support of the UCU’s industrial action
The results have just been announced, with 1100 total votes cast there were 1091 votes (99%) not spoilt. 891 votes (81%) were cast in support of the UCU’s industrial action, 151 (14%) rejected the UCU’s industrial action and 49 (4%) abstained, therefore the new UoNSU official position is in support of the UCU strike.
Every vote, both for and against, was crucial with campaigners for the ‘Support’ campaign saying they were more concerned about meeting the quoracy requirement of 950 votes (2.5% of the student body) for the referendum vote to be binding. However they managed to achieve this, though only just. Some people who voted ‘Reject’ and thus inadvertently helped the ‘Support’ campaign reach a binding plurality may be frustrated. However the students who Impact spoke to said it was important that was many people as possible voted, no matter who they voted for, both to show the university that the SU is serious about the issue and to ensure the decision is as democratic as possible.
“Lecturers have been striking for a very long time”
Impact asked students why this vote was so important. Some students campaigning for the ‘Support’ campaign felt that student support was necessary to help the strikes succeed. “I do think the strikes will succeed, once there is student support and lecturer support,” said Leonardo, an undergraduate physics student. Shamaila, a postgraduate history student, also said that, “If students do stand with lecturers, then absolutely [the strikes will work]. I think without them there is a much smaller chance they will work. Lecturers have been striking for a very long time, until and unless students rise with them it is hard for the universities to care.”
Shamaila also said that the vote could affect people’s academic future. “Even if you think it’s not going to matter for your courses this year it actually will, because the more support they [the UCU] have the less likely it is the strike will keep going on.”
There is also the question of whether students are consumers of a product, a university education and hopefully eventually a fancy piece of paper to help us get jobs, or whether we are an equal part of a university community. Some feel that students should vote in the referendum to become more part of the community and have more say over what happens in our university, not just be passive customers of it.
‘pay rises and pension contributions […] are set at a national level, so it cannot be resolved by the University of Nottingham alone’
Some say that lecturers they have spoken to and gotten emails from are keen for students to get more involved and support the strikes, asking students to write to the university and demand they do more to help the lecturers. The University claims that ‘pay rises and pension contributions […] are set at a national level, so it cannot be resolved by the University of Nottingham alone.’ However they also claim to be already taking action to support staff and address the UCU’s complaint, such as offering a minimum 3% pay rise and by piloting a program of Graduate Teaching Assistants to reduce casualisation.
[The NUS] have urged universities and employers to come to the table to negotiate
One international student crucially highlighted the way university rules prevented her from expressing her solidarity with lecturers fully before the SU voted to support, saying that, “I don’t want to cross a picket line. If any lectures don’t get cancelled, and/or they get replaced I would be crossing a picket line. I don’t want to do that. But my visa does require that I go and attend class unless I have a valid reason. But according to the University officially, unless the SU supports this, it [the strikes] is not a valid reason. So if you think international students like me should at least have the choice of whether to support the picket lines or not, then you want to make it so the SU supports those students. Otherwise we have to go to class, regardless of how we feel. We are forced to cross a picket line, regardless of how we feel. The University can literally threaten us with deportation.”
‘As workers of the future, students have everything to gain from UCU members winning this fight.’
The National Union of Students (NUS) issued a statement in support of the strikes, saying, ‘The struggles we face as students are inextricably linked to the reasons that staff are striking.’ They have urged universities and employers to come to the table to negotiate an end to the strike action and finished by saying, ‘As workers of the future, students have everything to gain from UCU members winning this fight.’
This perhaps draws a link between these strikes and strikes by many other national unions recently, such as the train strikes, post office strikes and most notably the nurses’ strikes, which will happen this December will be the biggest ever. This demonstrates some people’s desperation and urgency to receive pay rises in order to cope with rising inflation on a national scale.
However despite the UoNSU being signed up to the NUS nationally we still need to have a referendum to determine the UoNSU’s position, and ensure it is reflective of Nottingham students’ values and opinions. In this vote students were asked to either support the UCU’s current industrial action in its entirety, including the strike and action short of a strike, reject the UCU’s current action in its entirety or abstain, saying they believe that the SU should not take a position either way.
For more content including Uni News, Reviews, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.