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Classes will be affected as lecturers prepare for lengthiest university strike in recent history

Lecturers in 61 British universities are preparing to embark on a four-week long strike over changes in their pension scheme. Why are they striking and how is this going to affect students?

University lecturers in the UK will take industrial action over proposed changes in their pensions which can result to losses of up to £10,000 per retirement year.

The strikes will start on the 22nd of February and will continue until the 16th of March. Cardiff University is among the institutions that will be affected from the strikes.

Dr. Victoria Wass, a labour economist at Cardiff university and member of the UCU (University and College trade union) which is organizing the strikes, explained us the proposed changes to the lecturers’ pensions:

“In a defined benefit scheme, you get a guaranteed pension when you retire and that pension depends on how long you’ve worked and what was your salary while you worked. The employer is proposing to replace that scheme with a defined contribution scheme. With a defined contribution scheme, every individual has his/her own individual investment pot. If you want to buy a pension, that is like your defined benefit pension, in the sense that you get a fixed amount for the rest of your life, you have to buy an annuity but the annuity that you can buy is much lower than the defined benefit scheme. And I mean much lower! Somebody that was due to retire on an annual pension of £16,000 will be on £8,500.”

A poster on the John Percival Building explaining the proposed strikes.

“This is an unprecedent raid on our pensions and unfortunately, it’s led to unprecedent strike action. It’s certainly the biggest strike in living memory,” said Dr. Williams, lecturer in Cardiff’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural studies.

“We’ve had strikes before but there’s never been so much at stake in the past. This is more like a Brexit. There’s no going back, once you’ve got rid of the benefits scheme, there’s no going back and everything changes,” added Dr. Wass.

Lecturers argue that the proposed changes will have a big impact on the education level in British Universities.

“I think that’s it’s going to have widespread effects beyond the lecturers’ quality of life. The learning environment for our students is going to suffer as well, because high-quality applicants to academia will be turned away and people who are already in the profession will be looking for the exit doors,” said Dr. Williams.

UCU members have voted in favour (89%) for taking industrial action.

The strikes will take place for 14 days around a four-week period. UK law says that university lecturers are not obliged to disclose beforehand whether they’ll be participating in the strikes.

This has created confusion among the students who won’t know whether their lectures will be cancelled until the day of their classes.

“I’ll be going on strike for 14 days. There’s no catching up on missed lectures, that’s what a strike is all about. The material is all on learning central, I just won’t be teaching it and I won’t be teaching it later either because I would have lost pay. There’s got to be some cost imposed somewhere and it’s very unfortunate that the students have got caught up in this,” said Dr. Wass.

Students have expressed their dissatisfaction with the strikes. Petitions demanding compensations have been started by students in many of the affected universities.

Sam Veal, a history student, is the person who created the Cardiff university petition.

Sam, says that he is in £27,000 worth of debt because of tuition fees. Although, he agrees with the lecturers, he is also worried that students will be left without support for the period of the strikes.

“Most of my studying takes place alone, so I can go to the library and read 10-15 books on a subject, but the point of a lecture or a seminar is to consolidate people’s learning,” he said.

Sam Veal created a petition to demand compensation for the cancelled lectures.

Lecturers believe that the students’ demands for compensation will help strengthen their own arguments.

“That is definitely something that is going to rattle universities because the last thing they want to be doing is paying students back and the money that they save on teaching will come nowhere near on refunding student fees,” Dr. Wass said.

“It’s going show that the strike action is having a real detrimental effect to the students and unfortunately it’s one of the only things that can force the employers back to the negotiating table,” Dr. Williams concluded.

The days of the proposed strike action are:

Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February.

Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February.

Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March .

Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March.