The UCU Strike: Why it matters to International Students

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) at Queen’s, of which a sizable number of staff members of our university belong to, have balloted by a majority of 88% for industrial action following the incredibly damaging proposed cuts to the existing pension scheme of our university staff members, including junior and senior professors across all faculties and schools. UCU members at Queen’s have been instructed to strike on 22, 23, 26-28 February and 5-8 and 12-15 March.

Independent research has shown that the proposed pension cuts may reduce the typical lecturer’s retirement income by £10,000 a year.  The more junior the staff, the worse the loss. The nationwide UCU management have estimated that some staff members of each university would lose up to £200,000 over the course of their retirement.

It is understandable that many of us are annoyed and frustrated that a number of our classes have been disrupted, especially given the fact that all of us are paying significantly hefty tuition fees compared to domestic students. Depending on the programme of study international students pay between £15,100 and £35,900 per year in tuition fees. As a result of the strike international students will lose up to 8% of teaching time.

However, this is exactly why you should support the UCU strike and stand together with your lecturers.

The staff members of our university are essentially employees of our university. In this context, the employer and employees have mutual responsibilities towards each other – An employer should expect their employees to carry out their jobs to the best of their abilities, and in turn employees should be able to expect an adequate amount of benefits in order to do so, which would include a secure pension scheme. This proposed cut in their pensions are a great disservice to your lecturers and staff members, who might potentially fall into financial insecurity after their retirement alongside their families. And it is the university management who is in the position to persuade the Universities UK (the body responsible for these pension cuts) to reverse such measures.

Your action in support of this strike would be vital to our lecturers. Together, let us show them that we too care for their welfare, not merely to show the university that we international students are unhappy about not getting our money’s worth in paying extremely expensive tuition fees, but also to express solidarity with our aggrieved lecturers that we value them as academics who shape our education experience at Queen’s. With a large enough presence and publicity, the grievances of the international students as a result of this strike will be made aware to the university management, and this would hopefully prompt them to address our frustrations. I would like to urge you to participate in the rallies in the coming weeks, and email your lecturers offering your support as much as you possibly can!

At the meantime, we too recognise that there have been ongoing conversations about creating a petition for financial compensation for the lost contact hours, specifically for international students as well as for every student at Queen’s. I shall assure all of you of one thing: that a few colleagues and I are already seriously considering to start a petition on such a proposal on Change.org should the University management not change their stance towards the proposed cuts to the pension schemes of our staff members and consequently prolonging the strike, as well as using this subsequent petition to urge the university management to do something about this entire mess. It would be manifestly unfair for us international students to suffer from the strike should the University not replace the lost contact hours with any form of replacement whatsoever, as each of us are set to throw thousands of pounds down the drain without getting the education we all paid for.

This will be an interesting three weeks ahead; and I look forward to continuously represent your interests in my capacity as the International Students’ Officer.

Best regards,
Jason Kang,
Part-Time International Students’ Officer.

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