More than 1,500 people have signed a petition asking UEA’s Vice Chancellor to reimburse students’ for teaching hours lost owing to strike action. UEA students Kazim Chaudri, Ben Bownass, Lucy Hampshire and Tim Humphreys set up the petition. In a letter to the Vice Chancellor they wrote: “University education is a service which we pay for, and it is unreasonable to pay the full price without the full service.”
They added: “Above all, the following month is a crucial stage of preparation with dissertations and exams, and we as students will suffer as a result.
“You have asked that students write individual formal complaints if severely impacted. Thousands will be severely impacted. The students who will suffer the most are the ones who will not have the time or ability to go through formal complaints. This is unjust.”
Students pay £9,250 a year in tuition fees, and the University and College Union (UCU) strike action could result in students missing up to 14 days of lectures and seminars. The strikes are taking place over 4 weeks from February 20, with the number of days of staff striking increasing each week.
UCU said: “The disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme and rising costs for members, and on universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.”
Mr Chaudri said: “Our education was put on hold in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Now, we are in one month of yet another strike in 2020. In fact, there is another possible later this year.
“The idea of paying tuition fees without tuition is baffling. Students pay UEA £9,250 per year, expecting to receive a full education. Thousands of students will not receive this across yet another four weeks of strikes.
“Students have continually raised one point in response to this petition: they want this to be the final time that they pay for the strikes. So many reposts of this petition have voiced that paying the University during a strike is becoming a yearly tradition. Unfortunately, I have to agree.”
The strike is the fourth in three years and is in response to an average pay cut of more than 20% since 2009, relative to inflation.
A UEA spokeswoman said: “UEA will be putting the money withheld from striking staff during the industrial action into a fund to support all students. At this stage it is hard to know the full impact of the industrial action and therefore we will review how this fund could be used once industrial action is finished.
“Most funding for UK students comes direct from Student Finance England and university fees pay for so much more than teaching, including facilities like the library, Careers Central and upkeep of the campus grounds.
“After previous industrial action, a consultation with students resulted in a decision being made to use withheld wages from striking staff for the benefit of students.
“The areas students nominated for the money to be invested were mental health support and funding for additional library resource, including additional books and an e-book subscription package.
“Once the industrial action has finished, if students feel that the measures put in place have not mitigated the impact upon their studies then they will be able to discuss this initially with their Academic Adviser and then if necessary they can make a formal complaint. Students are advised to seek assistance from the Students’ Union Advice Centre if considering making a formal complaint.”
Dr Michael Kyriacou, a UEA humanities lecturer and anti-casualisation officer for UEA UCU said: “I don’t think it’s a matter for striking staff to tell students what they should and shouldn’t be asking for. It’s up to students as a political class to engage with the institution to work out their own demands. Obviously, I want students to stand in solidarity with us, and I think for the most part they do.”
Mr Humphreys said: “This compensation that we are asking for does not mean that we disagree with the strike action. We stand side by side with the lecturers in the picket lines and support their fight.”
However he suggested it was unlikely UEA would reimburse students for the full 14 days of missed tuition. He added: “I think the first thing the University would look at would be student attendance because you have to prove that [the strike] was a break in your engagement”.
You can support the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/uea-compensate-your-students