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STUDENTS in the Midlands have been warned that they will be punished if they refuse to cross picket lines ahead of the first day of strike action at universities across Britain on Thursday.
The University of Leicester reportedly told students that those standing in solidarity with members of the University and College Union (UCU) will be recorded as absent for all of the classes missed as a result.
A student at the university posted the message from the institution online, and it has since been shared widely.
Among those condemning the move was UCU general secretary Jo Grady, who claimed that the pressure put on students was an attempt to “coerce” them.
She said: “Shameful pre-strike behaviour from University of Leicester.
“Not only is this designed to fragment staff-student solidarity but it is harmful to international students and others subjected to attendance-monitoring regimes.”
The university’s decision comes as UCU members at 74 universities across Britain begin the first of 14 days of walk-outs in the largest wave of strikes ever seen on campuses.
The disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme and rising costs for members, as well as universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
Earlier this week, representative bodies said they would not be engaging further with union officials in an attempt to settle disputes over pay and working conditions.
Ahead of the first day of action, the UCU said the blame for the disruption to students’ education lay squarely with vice-chancellors.
Ms Grady added: “It is incredible they can accuse the union of acting in bad faith when they refuse to talk about the pay issue and have spent a whole week failing to come up with an offer on pensions.
“University staff are not going to be lectured on austerity or the necessity to hold down pay, worsen conditions and increase pension contributions from out of touch vice-chancellors whose own record on pay and perks has shamed the higher-education sector.
“Although vice-chancellors are refusing to budge, UCU remains ready to discuss all elements of the disputes and to work towards a resolution.”
A detailed report released this week highlighting the effects of casualisation on university staff underlined the need for improvements to working conditions.
The UCU’s Glasgow branch published its report on the realities of casualisation, which appears to be driving staff away from academia.
The document, launched to a packed room of members and supporters in the city yesterday evening, outlines the serious effect the use of casual and fixed-term contracts is having on teaching, as well as on the mental health of staff.
With more than a third of research and teaching staff on this type of contract, it was found that 80 per cent of this group were considering leaving the profession.
The report also found that insecure contracts negatively impact the mental health of the majority of workers, with many left on fixed-term agreements for years on end.
UCU Glasgow has put forward six proposals — including ending pay inequality, a reduction in casual contracts and an increase in transparency — for the university's consideration.
A spokeswoman for the branch said: “It’s encouraging to see that staff are determined to end casualised and insecure contracts at the University of Glasgow.
“We are confident that we can take this campaign forward and improve the working conditions of thousands of workers on campus.”
A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said they were disappointed members were not re-balloted on upcoming strike action.
He added: “Progress has been made in national talks between the employers and the UCU on a range of issues, including workload, casualisation and equal pay.
“At a local level we were pleased to agree a joint statement with the UCU which focuses on minimising disruption to students.”
UPDATE: University of Leicester’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Edmund Burke said:
“During the strike period, no student will be marked as absent from classes, and any absence will not impact on their overall attendance level.
“We appreciate that this is a difficult time for our students and we are working hard to avoid disruption to studies. This was the same policy run by the University during the last period of strike action.
“The strike is likely to result in some cancelled lectures, but the majority of university facilities and support services will be open as usual.
“We remain committed to working with all the relevant parties to find a suitable resolution regarding pay and pension issues, and continue to work hard to minimise any disruption for all staff and students during this time.”
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