Go back

University of Birmingham caught in ‘trespass’ strike row

Image: GavinWarrins, via Wikimedia Commons

Russell Group university attracts ire for advice on picketing during strikes

Academics have pressured the University of Birmingham to reconsider its decision to label picketing on campus as “trespass” as the University and College Union strikes continue.

Ten academics specialising in law have written an open letter questioning the decision to Tim Jones, provost and vice-principal of the university. A petition calling on the university to reverse its stance and provide “evidence-based justification for the approach taken” has attracted more than 800 signatures.

Strikes are taking place at 60 universities across the UK over pensions and pay and conditions. At the University of Birmingham, members of the University and College Union (UCU) are striking over both issues.

In an email seen by Research Professional News, Jones told staff on 22 November that as the university campus is private land, “picketing in the campus will be unlawful so once you get on campus this should not disrupt your day”.

He added: “The university is private land and therefore picketing or any other strike related activity (such as a rally) will be unauthorised and held to be trespass.”

The University of Birmingham has been approached for comment.

In the open letter, which was published by the UCU’s Birmingham branch and signed by both members and non-members of the union, the academics said they had a “deep concern” for striking colleagues and stressed there was “established case law that protesters have a right to choose the time, place and manner of their assembly”.

“Picket lines and rallies at the University of Birmingham, as our colleagues there have confirmed to us, have been good natured, passionate, respectful and extremely well attended,” they wrote.

“We cannot see how a total prohibition on picketing and rallies on campus is a proportionate limitation of [the European Convention on Human Rights] or compliant with the university’s legal obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998. Nor is it, we argue, in keeping with any university community’s collective commitment to education and engagement, or with the deeply rooted civic mission of the University of Birmingham.”

The 10 academics called on the university to “revisit” the decision to class picketing as trespassing and urged management to engage with the Birmingham branch of the UCU.

Elsewhere, a group of students who were occupying a lecture theatre at the University of Strathclyde in support of striking staff members have left the building. However, students at the University of Stirling have taken over a buildingand say they are are blocking the vice-chancellor’s office, among other rooms. 

A spokesman for the University of Stirling said: “A small group of students have occupied part of the Cottrell Building, as part of a nationally co-ordinated demonstration, with similar actions taking place at universities across the country.

“We respect the right of students and staff to make their voices heard and our priority is to ensure those in and around the occupied space remain safe. We want to see a sustainable solution to this national dispute over pensions and pay and, in the interim, will do all that we can to ensure there is minimal overall disruption for the University community and to the learning and teaching experience of our students in particular.”

An occupation at the University of Edinburgh is also ongoing. Yesterday, when the Edinburgh occupation began, a spokesman for the university said it hoped further national negotiations on pensions and pay and conditions could resolve the dispute on their campus.