By Emma Videan and Rimante Bivainyte
Welsh universities are set to face two weeks of strikes after a row around pensions, which some say will shortchange them of £10,000. Members of the UCU (University and College Union), which includes lecturers and other academic staff from four Welsh universities, started striking on an unprecedented scale from February 22.
The fierce debate comes in response to the proposals to remove the defined benefit element of the USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme), which, according to members of the Union, would lead to shortcomings of £10,000 per year in retirement, estimated to total over £200,000.
Members of staff from Bangor, Aberystwyth, University of Wales and Cardiff University recognized the potential disruption for student’s work, but UCU general secretary Sally Hunt argued: “Staff who have delivered the international excellence vice-chancellors use to justify their own lavish pay and perks are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by leaders who seem to care more about defending their own perks than the rights of their staff.”
On the first day of strikes, Gair Rhydd’s Politics Editor Rhys Thomas attended the first rally of strikes where he had an opportunity to get a better look into the heart of strikes. Here, he was tweeting on Gair Rhydd Politics Twitter latest news about the rally. The first-year research student, Sarah Becker stated: ‘All sectors should have a decent pension’, one of the staff members said: ‘We are being driven out of a profession we love. If you take away a reasonable pension, people will be driven away from the profession.’ Lecturers who were from two different departments noted that ‘This is not just about pensions but the general running down and marketization of higher education, these cuts prevent what we love doing – teaching and research.’ One of the PhD students, Vlad Costin pointed out: ‘It’s all about the current students. It will be worse for students in the future due to poorer working conditions’, while one of the lecturers said that ‘Law and Politics have been supporting staff on strike’ and added ‘no pressure has been applied to anyone regarding striking, it’s an individual choice.’
Earlier this week (19th February) Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan sent an open letter to all students to inform them about this industrial action and let students know about active facilities of university during the strikes period. One of the main aspects that he mentioned was that staff’s ‘priority during this time is to ensure any disruption is kept to a minimum and the impact on students minimised.’ The strikes are planned to take place til the 16th of March.