‘We need education to change’: The head of UCU on how the strikes are affecting students

‘We understand this is disruptive, we do’

Three days of strikes have taken place at universities across the UK, including at more than 30 universities in London, like UCL and Queen Mary. Academic and some support staff who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) have walked out over pay, pensions, and working conditions.

These industrial actions have affected students in many ways, and the UCU themselves have said some 2.5 million students could be affected.

The London Tab spoke with Dr Jo Grady, head of UCU, about the ongoing university strikes and how they’ve been affecting students.

Head of UCU, Dr Jo Grady, near the SOAS campus last Friday

Dr Grady was clear that these disruptions are something the UCU are aware of, but there is simply no alternative. She told The London Tab: “We understand this is disruptive, we do. People who have trained to teach, to research, they don’t [strike] because they don’t want to work…there is disruption, we wish it wouldn’t happen.”

She added that for staff, “three days of disruption doesn’t really compare to the disruption of spending 10 years on a poor contract, or not knowing if you’re going to get paid month to month, or having to move cities several times because you can’t get a permanent job.”

She also claimed that the strikes are intended to help students too: “It’s not that we don’t understand the disruption, it’s that we need education to change so that we can be better for you.

“It’s disruptive for students if their favourite lecturer isn’t here next semester. And it’s also disruptive for students if by the time you graduate, your lecturer is working somewhere else and you can’t get a reference.”

She believes the decision to end these strikes doesn’t lie with the staff, but with university management. “I would say there is one person at your universities that could stop this – it’s the vice chancellor. Lobby them, direct your anger at them, please don’t – as upset or as frustrated you might be – don’t direct your anger at the person on the picket line,” she said.

Like other staff The London Tab have talked to, Dr Jo Grady was feeling “very confident” about these strikes. “I’m feeling hopeful, this is the first nationwide one, every vice chancellor is feeling the pinch.”

However, she did note that action could continue after these three days of strikes. “I hope we’re not here in the new year, I hope we get a resolution, but we need to prepare to be and vice chancellors need to know that we’re prepared to be.”

Today is the last of three days of strikes this round, with a rally being held in London. But action short of strikes (ASOS), such as lecturers not covering for other staff or just working to their contract and not doing more, will be ongoing.

Strikes will continue depending on whether an agreement can be reached with universities. When announcing these strikes, the UCU said if issues are not resolved, the new year would see escalating strike action and a marking boycott.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Staff at more than 30 London unis to strike for three days at the end of November

• Here’s how the university strikes will impact you as London students

‘I refuse to treat my students as customers’: UCL lecturers and students on the strikes