Cambridge Vice-Chancellor describes ‘disruption’ of UCU strikes’ as ‘unfair’

The Cambridge UCU Branch president commented that they are ‘disappointed’ by the University’s response

The University and College Union (UCU) contacted the University of Cambridge with a formal notification of strike action from December 1-3, 2021. Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, and Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) of Cambridge, expressed concerns regarding the strikes to students.

Toope suggested that the decision to strike had not been “taken lightly” – a sentiment echoed by Virgo, who claimed that “there are understandably strong feelings on issues of pay and pensions.”

Toope then stated that he was “most deeply concerned, however, by the impact this is likely to have on students’ education,” arguing that “it seems particularly unfair that students should be affected after two extremely difficult years caused by the pandemic.”


Virgo added that he was “extremely concerned at the potential disruption to [students’] education after 20 extremely difficult months,” attributing the disruption to the decline of in-person teaching due to the pandemic.

Both the Vice-Chancellor and the Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor claimed that the University was cooperating with the UCU to “resolve this dispute,” calling for “tolerance and understanding of each other, however, strongly-held our views.”

They added that it is the University’s intent to “limit the effects of this strike on [students’] studies.” Virgo informed Cambridge students that “all parts of the University will remain open as usual during the days affected.

Faculties, Departments and other University institutions are set to implement “local contingency arrangements to minimise any disruption to [students’] teaching and learning.” College-specific work – including undergraduate supervisions – “will continue as normal throughout any strike period.”

When the Cambridge UCU Branch was contacted for comment, Michael Abberton (the Branch President) was “disappointed” by the University’s response. Abberton suggested that UCU members “care deeply for the welfare of their students,” which “has been demonstrated by the way staff have endeavoured to provide the best teaching and learning experience possible throughout the pandemic.”

Abberton also pointed out that “the Cambridge Student Union is standing in solidarity with UCU in the current dispute.”

Addressing the University, Abberton argued that “if the VC does care about any negative impacts, then he needs to be doing everything he can to get UUK and USS back to the table.”

Universities UK (abbreviated above as UUK) is an organization of 140 UK universities. UUK’s core activities are “shaping national and international policy, building public understanding of the quality and impact of UK universities, offering support and guidance to [UUK] members, and advocating for the UK higher education sector in the UK and overseas.”

Universities Superannuation Scheme (abbreviated above as USS) is a private pension scheme for employees in the higher education sector.

The Tab has released an introductory guide to the UCU strikes for more details on the nature of the dispute.

The University of Cambridge has set up a website with information on industrial action that will go live on Friday, 19 November. This website will contain “specific information for students.” 

Feature image credits: Roger Blackwell via the Creative Commons License

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