By Ana Oppenheim, NUS International Students’ Campaign
What is happening?
Academic staff at over 60 universities will be going on strike for 14 working days, starting from Thursday February 22. This means many lectures will be cancelled – but even when they are not, we are encouraging students in universities that are on strike to not go to class and, if possible, not enter university buildings at all during strike days.
Universities UK (UUK), which is a representative organisation for the UK’s universities, has proposed changes to the main staff retirement scheme, which could see lecturers and other academic workers losing 40% of their pensions. That’s up to £200,000 per person on average – a huge, if deferred, pay cut. After negotiations failed, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) released a ballot for industrial action, and members at 61 institutions voted to go on strike. The National Union of Students (NUS), as well as many SUs across the country, supports the strikes and believes that students need to stand in solidarity with our lecturers whose retirement is at risk.
Some students might be concerned about the loss of contact hours and possible disruption to assessment – this includes international students, many of whom pay extortionate fees for our degrees. However, it is important to remember that what is at stake is much more than a few missed classes.
This is a fight for pensions but also for the future and the quality of our education. With the increases in tuition fees and rise of marketisation, staff have already seen their pay fall in real terms and a rise in insecure hourly-paid contracts. This is yet another attack on those who teach us, while university senior managers pay themselves six figure salaries. These cuts are leaving our staff stressed and demoralised, and putting students off going into academia, which will affect the quality of future courses. Having talented and motivated lecturers means better education. Therefore, supporting the strikes is in our interest too.
Lecturers are not the ones to blame for education being expensive and they’re the victims of marketisation at least as much as we are
But there are many more reasons to support the action. We do not want to live in a society where employers can get away with attacking our working conditions. We believe in a world where everyone gets paid fairly and feels secure at work, and universities should be leading by example. If you are upset about losing contact time, get angry at UUK, not at your lecturers who just want justice at work and to defend the future of higher education.
Can this affect my visa?
Not going to university on strike days is the simplest and most effective way of supporting your staff. Empty classrooms and entire buildings will disrupt the functioning of the university and strengthen the strike as well as send a very clear message that students are backing the campaign.
Many international students might be worried that non-attendance can affect their visa status. A number of students’ unions, such as Manchester, have already negotiated with their universities that international students will not be penalised for absence during strike days. Check if your SU has released any information about this, and if not, contact your officers as soon as possible. You can also email your university’s immigration department/visa team directly and, importantly, encourage other international students to do the same.
What else can I do?
Students’ unions, societies and activist groups are organising all kinds of actions in support of the strikes. You can join the pickets (lines of staff standing in front of university buildings, informing about the action and encouraging others to not go in), attend teach-outs (alternative lectures, workshops or discussions taking place outside of campus), help fundraise for the UCU strike fund, get creative painting and dropping banners, or just help put up posters and distribute flyers. You can check the NUS campaign hub for advice and resources.
Tell other students, especially fellow international students, about the campaign! Get your international society down to the picket line (perhaps with traditional food and music?). Organise a talk or show a film off campus about workers’ movements in other countries so students can learn something valuable while they miss class. Perhaps you could even help UCU translate a flyer into other languages.
University bosses will be trying to weaponise international students and the sky-high fees we pay as an argument against the strikes. Don’t let them. We are not their tool or their bargaining chip. Lecturers are not the ones to blame for education being expensive and they’re the victims of marketisation at least as much as we are. Their struggle is our struggle. Students and workers, unite and fight!
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