We interviewed the Chair of the Newcastle University UCU Branch to find out all about the strike

Staff will not be holding lectures or seminars, or answering emails

As we all know many of Newcastle University's staff will be involved in strikes that are still set to go ahead, beginning on 22nd February. Many students across campus are asking questions about the strikes and what it will entail for us.

The Tab Newcastle spoke to Bruce Baker, a lecturer at the University in American History and also the Chair of the UCU, the Union partaking in the strike to find out some more information.

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Bruce addressing the first UCU meeting of the year

How do we know which staff are involved in the strikes? Why is it unclear which of our lecturers will be and which won't?

The management does not know who is a member of UCU and who is not, so they don’t know exactly who is likely to be on strike or not. So I honestly don’t know which lecturers will be on strike and which won’t.

We are also not obliged to say ahead of time if we will be on strike, and we are urging members not to announce whether they will be striking or not since that makes it possible to rearrange things in advance. As unpleasant as this is for everyone (including us, who lose a day of pay each day when we are on strike), the disruption is the point: this is what happens when you treat staff so badly that they decide they would rather not work and not get paid for several days in protest.

When will we definitely know about the strikes?

When something like a lecture doesn’t happen because the person doesn’t turn up because of the strike. I would suggest ringing the Vice Chancellor’s office to find out who is going to teach your class if this happens.

Is there any sort of refund available for students? Not just because of us missing lectures, but also because we're giving money to an institution that doesn't seem to care about it's staff

Not as far as I have heard. I saw a statement that the money withheld from striking staff members’ salary will be used to ‘enhance the student experience’, but I don’t know exactly what that means. It doesn’t sound like a refund to me.

The classes that are cancelled you say will not be arranged – how will that work?

In addition to taking full strike action for the declared days, the UCU is also beginning a continuing period of ‘action short of a strike’ on 22 February, which is basically a withdrawal of goodwill and specifically includes not rescheduling teaching missed on strike days.

If you say 'we can't examine you on the things you haven't been taught' and possibly make exams easier/cut some weeks of teaching, do you think future employers will discriminate against this year's graduates?

It seems to me like it would be a less good degree if material is skipped, whatever the certificate says. I suppose on a practical level, it would be very complicated for an employer to discriminate like that (and bear in mind that this will be affecting students at over 60 of the best universities around the country). But they would not be wrong to do so.

How is it fair that our marks will be affected by this loss of teaching? Is there any allowances or plan to deal with this?

According to the Vice Chancellor’s message to students: “The University has contingency regulations and procedures in place which can be applied in the event of industrial action. This includes excluding from any assessments topics that have not been delivered because of industrial action.”

That sounds to me like giving you the same degree at the same price with less content. I think that most of us who actually design and teach the modules find it repugnant that the management is willing to compromise the quality of students’ degrees like this. We actually enjoy teaching and take great pride in our teaching, but these “contingency regulations and procedures” make it sound like that commitment is not necessarily shared by the people at the top of the University’s management. If I were a student getting a lesser education than what I had been promised, I would be complaining—but not to the lecturers, who don’t really have any way of changing things. I would be complaining to the people in charge. I don’t know if students today are interested in challenging the power structure like that. I guess we’ll find out.

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