St Andrews students join picket line

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STRIKING St Andrews University staff have been joined by members of the student protest group StAnd on their picket line.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) held their first day of action recently, following the break down of talks between the union and employers over pensions.

The union claim the dispute centres around attempts to force through proposals to reduce pension benefits and has offered to enter talks with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

Tom Jones, treasurer of the UCU branch in St Andrews, told the Citizen he was pleased with the level of support shown to staff during their first strike.

He added: “We have a had a great response, passing cars have been hooting in support and some students have come out as well.

“This is a national dispute and we want to encourage management to get together with us and get back to the negotiating table.

‘‘At a local level, relations are good on the whole between management and the union.

“We certainly recognise the student protesters who are here supporting us and, if we have a common cause, we will work together.”

Members of the StAnd protest group turned up at the picket to show their support for the striking workers.

Among them was Patrick O’Hare, who has now been elected president of the university’s Students Association.

During the election campaign he pledged to give up 10 per cent of the salary that comes with his new post in order to offer financial support to international students.

He told the Citizen: “What staff are being offered on pay and pensions is ridiculous.

‘‘If the employers can’t afford to pay lecturers properly, how can they afford to pay six-figure salaries to university top earners?’’

That view was backed up by fellow StAnd protester Tamara Stupulova, who was elected accommodation officer for the Students Association.

Tamara said she was preparing to contact St Andrews University principal, Professor Louise Richardson, to urge her to use her position to push for a return to negotiations.

‘‘My fear is that standards will fall and the university’s reputation will suffer if the staff aren’t given a fair settlement,’’ she added.

“I am concerned for the quality of university education in the future years as a result of declining provision for our staff.

‘‘With the proposed changes, the university is likely to lose its ability to attract top academics, leading to the decline in quality of education and the loss of its prestige. Subsequently, the university might face a lowering influx of students from overseas and an overall decrease in student satisfaction.

“While I am also concerned over the disruption to teaching caused by strikes over this issue, I fully support the staff in this action.

‘ I maintain that responsibility for disruption lies with the Employers’ Pensions Forum and, furthermore, university management can best represent the interests of students by representing the concerns of its staff.”

A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) said: “Employers are extremely disappointed by UCU’s decision to take industrial action on three separate issues across the higher education sector.

‘‘We are concerned that UCU may be confusing its members, staff and students by combining three separate ballot outcomes with generic strike action.

“UCU should look to work with HEIs during this period of change and challenge for all; not against them. here is much sector uncertainty at present and this course of action will only damage students and institutions.”