UCU STRIKES- from an international perspective

Today, strikes have begun across 56 universities today including the University of Liverpool. The University and College Union (UCU) have demanded a £2,500 pay increase for members, an end to “pay injustice”, a re-evaluation of the pensions scheme and zero-hours contracts action to tackle “unmanageable workloads”. But what does this mean for students? Do they attend or avoid classes, or should they join the picket itself?

On the one hand, the message from University of Liverpool’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Gavin Brown asks students in an open email to “assume all activities are going ahead and attend as planned unless you hear definitively from your lecturer or School Office that a teaching event will not take place”. On the other hand, the guild announced last night that their ‘preferendum’ (a referendum with more than one choice) on whether to support lecturers’ strikes passed. This was with 2184 points to fully support, 1564 votes to support UCU in their disputes but not in industrial action and 885 votes against. Subsequently they are calling on students to support the strike and not cross the picket line. Here are their six resolutions for the coming days:

  1. To officially support any industrial action that may take place.
  2. To release an immediate public statement showing support if staff take industrial action.
  3. To help educate students about any industrial action and explain why they should support it.
  4. To organise ‘teach-out’ events to bring staff and students together to learn and discuss a range of topics including the industrial action, trade unionism and higher education.
  5. To lobby the university to meet the demands made the University and College Union. 
  6. To not cross the picket line and safeguard students without ‘breaking the strike.’

But for international students and lecturers, even if they wanted to, striking isn’t really an option. International students with VISAS are required to have an 80% attendance rate to comply with their VISA. This means that they cannot miss out on more than just sixteen days of lessons. As a result, students are forced to decide between crossing the picket line to achieve attendance or risking deportation. For years, calls have been made for universities to stop monitoring the attendance of students during strikes by staff. Last year, the University of Liverpool came under criticism for warning undergraduates in an open email that it was “unlawful” to join pickets and for international students to remember they would be jeopardising their visa by not crossing the picket line.

 Ex- Liverpool University student Yidan Gao from Suzhou, China wrote to me about her troubles with VISAs and strikes in her time at the University. “I was really worried about my VISA situation, from first year to last I would be scared about getting ill and missing university and then when the strikes started me and my friends didn’t know what to do, we wanted to strike but how could we do that and risk getting sent back home?”

As these new strikes begin, whether you choose to cross the picket line or not, it’s important to remember our privilege in being able to decide whether or not we want to support the strike. Additionally, we should remember when seeing international students crossing the picket that the consequences for them are far more severe than for non-international students.

If you’d like to find out more on strikes, why they are happening and what students think, tune in to our podcast from last week to hear more:

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