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Industrial unrest escalates at trio of universities

Image: Ray Morgan, via Shutterstock

Strike ballots and academic boycotts as discontent grows

The University and College Union has confirmed industrial action developments at three separate universities: Sheffield Hallam, Goldsmiths and the University of Winchester.

At Sheffield Hallam University, the union announced yesterday that its members had voted to strike over “drastic cuts and erosion of terms and conditions”. In the ballot, 87 per cent of members who voted supported industrial action, on a turnout of 53 per cent. Dates for strikes will be announced “in due course”, the UCU said.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said Sheffield Hallam staff “cannot stand by and let management force through…outrageous cuts which would see teaching, research and academic standards torn to shreds”.

A Sheffield Hallam spokesperson said the university was “disappointed [that the] UCU has voted to take action”.

“Our priority during any industrial action will be to do everything possible to minimise the impact on our students and wider community,” the spokesperson said. “Like all universities, we are having to make tough decisions about the way we operate due to various well-documented external pressures.

“This includes the government’s actions to reduce the overall number of international students in the UK, which has made the financial picture for universities much worse. Throughout this period, we will do everything possible to avoid any compulsory redundancies and are engaging with trade union representatives as part of collective consultation.”

Academic boycott

Meanwhile, the UCU has announced a “global academic boycott of Goldsmiths, University of London”, over the institution’s plans to cut jobs.

Staff at the institution—who have been involved in near-continuous industrial action for months—are already undertaking a marking boycott in a dispute over management’s plans for job cuts.

The boycott means the union is calling on members, university workers, trade unionists and supporters worldwide not to apply for any advertised jobs at Goldsmiths and to refuse to speak at conferences there or accept any positions as visiting professors or researchers. It also wants supporters to refuse to accept new contracts as external examiners.

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths said that after consulting unions and staff, the institution was now “regrettably moving to the next stage of the redundancy process”.

“During this time, we have listened and responded to evidenced and viable suggestions and made changes where appropriate, including significant changes in relation to our processes and decision-making. The actions we are taking are in response to the unprecedented challenges that Goldsmiths and other universities are facing from a funding system that is no longer fit for purpose and are part of a wider plan aimed at ensuring that Goldsmiths continues to be a beacon for radical research and innovative teaching, as well as an entry point for students, many of whom are the first in their family to go to university.”

Job cuts

The trio of UCU announcements was completed with confirmation that staff at the University of Winchester will strike today (4 June), again over job cuts.

“Universities across the country are facing very serious financial challenges,” a Winchester spokesperson told Research Professional News. “Winchester is acting responsibly in its use of public funding by considering all cost-saving options whilst maintaining the high quality of its student education and support.”

A list of UK institutions where job losses and redundancy schemes are on the table has been compiled by the Queen Mary, University of London branch of the UCU. It currently contains more than 60 institutions.