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An open letter to Universities UK president Janet Beer

THIS open letter was written by students at the University of Liverpool to their vice-chancellor and president of Universities UK, Professor Janet Beer. 

It has been sent to the Marxist Student Federation, as well as other media outlets, and we are publishing it in its entirety as it shows the real feelings that exist on campus during the time of the UCU strike action.

Dear Janet Beer,

We are writing to you in your roles of vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool and as president of Universities UK (UUK).

Each of the undersigned are students at the University of Liverpool and we felt it is our duty to draw your attention to the genuine feelings which exist on campus, in relation to the lecturers’ strike, and to make you aware of some of our experiences of management while on the picket lines.

We would like to start by openly stating that we are on the side of the lecturers in this dispute.

We support the striking staff and have been doing what we can to spread solidarity for the action among our peers. We will continue to do this in the coming weeks and for as long as it takes to bring UUK back to the negotiating table and to end its attack on pensions. 

As part of this support we have gone down to the picket lines and stood side by side with our staff during strike days.

It was while on the picket lines that we had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Carol Costello, HR executive at the University of Liverpool, and Patrick Hackett, your deputy vice-chancellor. This is the first time we have met or seen either since studying at the university.

On Thursday, day one of the strike, Costello came down to the picket line at the Foundation Building and was incredibly aggressive and seemed to be trying to intimidate the staff and students who were there.

She was far from pleasant to have dealt with and we were incredibly surprised to see a representative of the university speaking with students in such a way.

Sadly, this was not the only time we’ve had such experience of upper management at the university.

On Friday, the second day of the strike action, we were blessed with a visit from deputy vice-chancellor Patrick Hackett, who was doing the rounds speaking to pickets. 

It was not long before 8am on the picket line at the entrance to the car park by Crowne Place.

When Hackett was asked whether he was surprised by the support that has been shown for the lecturers’ strike, he made comments which I think are quite indicative of the attitude that management have towards the lecturers and students at the university. 

In answer to this question, Hackett started by dismissing the support that lecturers at the university were showing for the strike. 

He then went on to say that he was surprised at the support which students had shown to the staff. 

He said this was specially the case since students are “unable to really understand the complicated issue of pensions.” He then went on to imply that the only reason that support was being shown by students was due to the naivety of their youth.

The actions and comments of Patrick Hackett and Carol Costello are insulting and dismissive and they are woefully ignorant of the facts. 

Students and young people are as capable as any other in looking at the details of the pension dispute. It is our having done so which has brought many of us out on to the picket lines in support of our staff.

The fact that vice-chancellors, on six-figure salaries with homes provided by the universities, are willing to gamble away the pensions and futures of our lecturers, who have dedicated their lives to teaching, is a damning indictment of the vision that UUK has of education. 

While lecturers are under attack, we, as students, have our own difficulties that we are facing. We are being wracked with massive debts and being forced to live on a pittance while we study. 

We are paying obscene prices to live in university accommodation and many of us have had to take on paid work alongside our studies simply to survive. 

The amount of stress and anxiety this causes is difficult to quantify at times. And why do we do this to ourselves? We are in education, just like our lecturers, because we see value in self-development and consider education to be a social good. It is not a commodity which can simply be bought and sold. Lecturers are not just passive cogs in a machine which can be exploited to get more and more profit out of them for the university management.

The future that is being left to us, as a generation, is one of low wages, terrible terms and conditions, massive debts and poor housing options. 

At the same time as facing these difficulties we are not without hope. The struggle and support of our lecturers inspires us to fight on and to go forward to build a future that we deserve. 

The strike against attacks on pensions is a symptom of a wider crisis in education and in society. The money exists to settle this dispute, as is evidenced by inflated vice-chancellor salaries and the vast quantities of money which exist in the economy which are hoarded by big business and the banking sector. 

The fight for free education and for a system which is suited to meet the needs of the many is a fight to reclaim this wealth and put it to social use.

Standing side by side with our lecturers in this strike action we do so with all of this in mind and with a view to continue this struggle afterwards so that we can change society for the better.

As students of the University of Liverpool, we, the undersigned, demand the following:

  • A public apology from Hackett for the insulting comments he made towards students on the picket lines on Friday February 23
  • UUK, of which you are president, should return to the negotiating table with the University and College Union and earnestly seek to put an end to this dispute 
  • You should reverse the proposed attacks on the USS pension scheme 

The reason we have put these points to you in the form of an open letter is in the hope that our concerns and views are not going to be dismissed, as they have been in the past. 

A number of students at the university have contacted you directly about the dispute, but they are, as of yet, still awaiting any form of response.

We look forward to your reply and to getting back to lectures once you and UUK have returned to the negotiating table and have stopped attacking our staff.

Gilly Singh, Liverpool Marxist Society
John Gillespie
Daniel Harris
Casey Burgess
Heather Macdonald
Charlie Hall
Beatrice Lee
Stephanie McDonagh
Amber Smith
Keir Nicholas-Haizelden


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