Students have said they are “sick” of disruption to their education and that they should “get the stuff we paid for”, after academics began a three-day strike over pay, pensions and working conditions.
More than a million students have been affected by walkouts at 58 UK institutions.
Employers have called the strikes “disappointing” after around 50,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) joined picket lines across the country.
Outside University College London, support for the strike among students was superseded by frustration after 18 months of COVID-related disruption.
“It’s ridiculous, I’m sick of it really,” third-year geology student Darcie Hunter told Sky News.
“All my field trips have been cancelled, we’ve had barely any in-person stuff. If I could get a refund I would, but I can’t.”
Her course mate Ollie similarly feels the strike is “unfair”.
“We paid our money and we should get the stuff we paid for,” he said.
Cory, who is studying French, has had four lectures cancelled as a result of the walkout. He supports the staff but says that may change if they follow through on threats to continue action in the new year.
“After such a disrupted year last year, more disruption is kind of the last thing we need,” he told Sky News.
“As long as I get out of here with a degree, I don’t really care. A lot of us share that kind of view.”
The UCU claims that cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions scheme would reduce the guaranteed retirement income of a typical member by 35%.
It also suggests that university staff wages have fallen by around a fifth after 12 years of below inflation pay offers, while thousands of academic staff are employed on “insecure” contracts.
The union is demanding that cuts to the pensions scheme are revoked and members are offered a £2,500 pay increase, as well as action to improve working conditions.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The truth is, this is not a cash-strapped sector. It is a sector with more than enough money to pay and treat the people that do the bulk of the work in it, that keep the sector afloat and who did during the pandemic, with dignity.”
University leaders have called the union’s claims a “misrepresentation of the facts” and insist the maximum pension reduction will be 18%.
“Universities simply don’t have unlimited resources,” Brunel University vice-chancellor Professor Julia Buckingham told Sky News.
“The pandemic has cost universities a huge amount of money. We have lost significant amounts of commercial income and we’ve also had to invest a lot.
“UUK has worked extraordinarily hard over the last 18 months to try to come up with a solution which is affordable for universities, but which will ensure our members have good pensions when they retire.”
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The Office for Students, England’s higher education watchdog, has said universities should consider offering partial tuition fee refunds to students if their learning has been affected by the strikes.
Prof Buckingham, who is also a board member of UUK, said universities would “try our utmost” to mitigate the impact on students but refused to guarantee that lost teaching would be replaced.
“It may not be in the same format but we will do our level best to make sure the students aren’t disadvantaged.”
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