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Young Liberals react to Universities strike

February 27, 2018 1:06 PM
In Liberal Democrat Voice

Teachers and professors are amongst the most trusted and respected professions in the UK, so says IPSOS Mori's 2017 Veracity Index. Changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the pension scheme serving over 190,000 university staff in 92 higher education institutions, have shown no respect for lecturers and professors, alienating a huge number of academic staff and lowering morale on campus by asking them to do the same amount of work for less money.

Young Liberals, the youth and student wing of the Liberal Democrats, voted in their Winter Conference to support an emergency motion calling for Universities UK (UUK), the body representing 136 university Vice-Chancellors, to reopen USS negotiations with the University and College Union (UCU) immediately, and ensure that academic staff receive a fair pension plan.

Through this vote we as an organisation called for a sustainable pension scheme that values the hard work of academics throughout their lives. This basic act of solidarity is a step towards Young Liberals across the country standing up to support their lecturers on their campuses, and for some, on the picket lines.

How can we make a difference?

Listen. Lecturers across the UK are hurt. Listen to them and the reasons why they are on strike. Some Young Liberals in York attended a picket-line "Teach-Out" organised by members of UCU, where we learnt about a range of subjects, but most importantly we discussed what areas of university life were most in need of change.

Staff pensions were a priority, but staff and students agreed that improved morale was key, in particular improving the toxic environment on campus where both students and staff are put under ever increasing levels of stress resulting in ever increasing levels of mental health problems.

Write to those who can make change. The University of York Liberal Democrats are writing an open letter to our Vice Chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts, giving our support to the strikes. The letter called for Lamberts to use his influence on UUK to bring the organisation and UCU back to the negotiation table to work out a fair deal for lecturers' pensions.

Students at the University of Oxford have an even more vital role to play in bringing about reform to USS and ending the strikes, given Oxford's over-representation in UUK due to their collegiate system. Oxford University Liberal Democrats have taken a stand, calling for both sides to get back to the negotiating table in their own petition launched on Wednesday, signed by 150 students.

Fine Universities and reimburse students. Young Liberals have called for universities to be fined, and students to be reimbursed as a consequence of strike action. UUK's failure to negotiate has forced our lecturers to strike, university's own greed has caused damage to our education as students, and as such universities should face financial repercussions.

This approach, supported by over 70,000 students across the UK and by many within UCU, will give unions greater leverage over universities in future strikes and will force Universities to properly consider the educational needs of their students.

The Liberal Democrats as a whole are standing up for lecturers pensions, and support the strikes. Vince Cable has sent a letter to Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, calling on the government to underwrite the universities pension scheme and to bring an end to the strike.

Wera Hobhouse was another early supporter of the strikes, tweeting on the first day of the strikes, telling the Bath Chronicle;

I fully support UCU Bath in their strike over their pensions being slashed by 40%. It's incredibly unfair to dedicate your life in pursuit of knowledge and reason for the public good, only to get ripped off at the end of it.

As Liberal Democrats, let's get active, and ensure that our lecturers are given the respect and fair pensions they deserve.