Over 100 Edinburgh Uni professors call on Peter Mathieson to testify before Holyrood
They want the Principal to ‘explain why there is no end in sight’ to ongoing strike action
111 professors at the University of Edinburgh have publicly called for Principal Peter Mathieson to appear before a Select Committee in the Scottish Parliament as part of the ongoing dispute over staff pensions, pay, and conditions.
In an op-ed published in The Times, David Farrier, Professor of Literature and the Environment, outlined that staff have demanded a parliamentary inquiry to examine how Scotland’s universities are managed.
It comes as a result of ongoing industrial action by uni staff across the UK over concerns that academics could lose approximately 30 per cent of their pension income – with uni bosses including Mathieson refusing to vote to reverse the cut and end the strikes.
Farrier and his co-signatories also allege that: “University leaders see continued disruption to students’ education as an acceptable cost of business as usual”.
Yesterday, members of the Universities and Colleges Union at Edinburgh were among staff at dozens of Scottish and UK unis to vote for further strike action over pensions and the “Four Fights” (low pay, casual contracts, high workload, race and gender pay gaps).
No dates have been set for strikes, but if they go ahead, it would be the seventh time in just over four years that Edi lecturers have gone on strike.
Peter Mathieson was one of the uni bosses to previously vote down UCU proposals on pensions that were aimed at stopping strike action in February.
This is despite the pensions body having assets of almost £90 billion, to which the University of Edinburgh contributes £30 million per year in deficit reduction payments that, according to Farrier, are “unnecessary”.
As a result, Farrier alleges morale among Edi staff is “lower than ever”, and that without a resolution to the crisis, Scottish academia will become accessible only to those with private incomes.
Farrier and his co-signatories have addressed the letter to Scotland’s Education Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, and Jamie Hepburn, Higher Education Minister.
They argue that parliamentary intervention is now needed to resolve the crisis, as they allege: “University leaders have shown little interest in addressing the issues”.
It is expected that a one-off select committee hearing will take place later this year.
The news also follows the SNP’s announcement to cut per-pupil funding, which is expected to result in 1,400 fewer places at Scottish universities for the coming academic year.
Responding to the open letter and op-ed by Prof. Farrier, a spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh told The Tab: “We are listening to staff concerns about the USS pension scheme. As one of 340 institutions that offer the scheme to their staff, we are limited in what we can do on these nationally negotiated issues. While we take every opportunity to make our views clear, we are one voice among many.
“All of our responses to consultations are published on our website, where they are visible to all. We have engaged with our staff throughout this process and will continue to do so. We are not complacent and are committed to securing a long-term outcome for the USS pension that is fair, affordable and sustainable for both individuals and employers.
“Where we can, we have implemented a number of initiatives to address aspects of employment conditions for our staff. We have been a Voluntary Living Wage employer since 2012 and we have not used zero-hour contracts since 2014. We have doubled investment in our annual staff reward scheme to recognise the contributions of more staff. We are committed to a fair offering for staff and offer many generous staff benefits, including excellent flexible working and family-friendly policies.
“We know that this ongoing situation has caused significant disruption and concern for our students and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that the impact on learning and teaching is minimised. We have established a Learning Opportunity Fund from money not spent on staff salaries due to strikes. This fund allows students to apply for support in order to pursue opportunities for additional learning or other activity that contributes to their educational experience.”
Asked whether Principal Mathieson intends to comply with the request to appear before Parliament, a spokesperson for the university said: “Peter Mathieson is the accountable officer for the University of Edinburgh but he holds no formal role in the administration of the USS pension scheme”.