Response to VC statement about the strike

Dear Colleagues and Students,

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Roehampton sent round a communication to all members of staff and students (including a link to several FAQ pages for staff and students) regarding the upcoming strike action.  UCU think it unacceptable that the University newsletter was used to peddle lies and polemic; we believe that the Vice-Chancellor has overstepped the boundaries of his role in doing so.

We have registered a complaint with HR against the Vice-Chancellor, and we have informed the Student Union. We strongly encourage you to share this information with your students. In order for the students to be apprised of the situation around the strike action, they need to be given factual information.  As a University, surely the provision of fact is our most basic function.

UCU would like to point out a number of the egregious falsities and inaccuracies made throughout these various communications and to set some things straight. In the interests of parity, propriety, and factuality, we have requested that the Vice-Chancellor correct the many inaccuracies in the statement and that he call attention to the errors that he made.

  1. The VC notes that “As part of a national dispute about pay and pensions across UK universities, the University and College Union (UCU) has recently passed a vote in favour of strike action”.The VC is incorrect. UCU Roehampton members did not vote on the issue of pensions; our members were only balloted as part of the Four Fights campaign (which does not include the pension dispute). The Four Fights campaign detailed in this helpful infographicis not simply about pay; it is also about dangerous and unsustainable workload conditions, casualised and exploitative labour practices, and the gender/race pay gap. The VC is deliberately mischaracterising the reasons for the national UCU strike; he knows exactly why members voted to strike and by ignoring three of the four reasons why our members have voted for strike action he is attempting to enflame student anger against UCU and against striking staff on the grounds that this is all about money. (It isn’t.) He fails to mention, for instance, the fact that an increasing number of part-time and junior staff are currently on dubious, casualised contracts. UCU were informed by the Director of HR in 2018 that the University would be suspending the use of associate lecturer contracts, but this promise failed to materialise and new members of staff continue to be offered these. This amounts to exploitation of younger/newer members of staff. On the matter of wage increase, here are some important points to remember:a) we are asking for below inflation pay;b) we were the only University where staff were asked to take a pay cut based on senior management saying that student numbers were low (when, in reality, we recruited higher than expected);c) staff that had their pay cut have not had their money returned to them (which was promised them);

    d) despite the narrative around financial hardship, Senior Management has still seen it fit to reward themselves a pay rise earlier this term, and have still not agreed to pay back staff who took a pay cut; and

    e) Senior Management have taken almost every opportunity to make staff look greedy and unreasonable for ask for a pay award that reflects the increasing costs of living and working in London.

  2. The VC continues to peddle the narrative that the strike action is a “staff vs. student” issue.It isn’t. This is a staff AND student wellbeing issue. The VC notes that “It is disappointing that the dispute is spilling over in universities such as Roehampton, where many of our students are first in their family to attend University, and made an important decision to come and study with us”. Here, the VC is deliberately shaping the strike action as an attack on our specific student demographic. Whether students are first in family or not has no bearing at all on our strike mandate; this is a shameless attempt to emotionally manipulate our students.  Many in Senior Management and those who oppose the strike action claim to do so because of the mental health effects it will have on the students. Some have suggested that UCU are disregarding students’ mental health, their academic study, their wellbeing etc.  Actually, we contend that students are suffering from adverse mental health effects already (and not because of the strike action), but because they are having to pay high fees and work whilst studying; because they are being pressurised into thinking about their future careers rather than being able to enjoy the actual act of learning and being a student; because of underfunded student support services. If our management really cared about the students, then they would invest in the very people who support them and actually know them: their lecturers.
  3. The VC notes that “Approximately 1 in 5 of those eligible to join the Union voted in favour of strike action and 61% of those who received a ballot either voted against the action or did not vote”.This is a deliberately deceitful sentence. The VC’s stat is written in such a way as to cleverly disguise the fact that he is talking about all members of staff (including both UCU and non-UCU colleagues) – all of whom are eligible to join the Union. This stat is designed to make Union action (and strike support) look small. It is not small; UCU have a mandate for action as voted on by a majority of its members. This is how democracy works; if we did not have a mandate for strike action as voted on by a majority of our members, then we wouldn’t be striking. But we are striking because a majority of UCU members have voted to do so.
  4. The VC notes that, in spite of the financial impact of the pandemic on Universities, Roehampton has “implemented the national pay award for staff in full and maintained the London weighting on salaries”. This is, once again, an obvious attempt to persuade students etc. that the lecturing staff who have voted for strike action have done so simply because we are “greedy”. Pay for lecturing staff has decreased by 20% in the last 10 years; there has been no pay increase on par with national inflation. The VC is deliberately mischaracterising the reasons for the national UCU strike and is attempting to enflame student anger against UCU and against striking staff by implying that this is all about money. (Again, it isn’t.)
  5. The VC also notes that “the University will begin consultation with the UCU on a new academic workload allocation model on 25 November”. Colleagues need to be reminded that this was promised us as far back as 2018; the only reason these workload negotiations are taking place now is because management decided to call them just ahead of the 2021 strike action being announced. Again, this is a deliberate attempt to control the narrative and to make it appear as though management are being open and receptive when, in fact, they have obfuscated for three years. If management were serious about staff involvement in the workload consultation, then they would have let us have a say much earlier in the summer.

It is clear that Management are “adjusting” information to suit their own narrative around this strike; it is in their interest to paint this action as a “staff vs. student” issue when it patently isn’t. Students are the collateral damage in a conflict between staff and management – a conflict management has the power to resolve, if it wants to. UCU are trying to do the best by our students while also protecting the interests, wellbeing, and health of our members; we have written to Senior Management requesting that any money not paid out to striking workers over the days of strike action be put into the student hardship fund.

A reminder, once again: the pandemic is not our fault; student learning conditions are not our fault; student finances are not our fault; under-staffed departments are not our fault; reliance on casualised staff on inferior contracts is not our fault; staff exhaustion is not our fault.  The strike is a way of collectively saying that enough is enough. Things will not improve until management improve them.


UCU Roehampton