Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland students urged to complain and seek refunds over university strike

By Jonathan Bell

Northern Ireland students should complain to their universities and look for refunds for their tuition fees if their courses are affected by industrial action.

Queen's University Student Union President Stephen McCrystall said they fully supported staff in their dispute saying it was important students were not adversely impacted.

"The staff are not the enemy and the students are not the enemy," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "It is the responsibility of the universities to ensure they look after their staff and that includes the right to a pension."

Lecturers and non-academic staff at Ulster University and Queen's began strike action on Thursday alongside almost 60 other institutions across the UK. An escalating wave of stoppages are planned over a four-week period by members of the University and College Union (UCU). The protest surrounds changes to pensions.

Queen's said it was working to make sure it was "business as usual" during the disruption.

"Obviously the universities will not know how they will be impacted until the strike actually happens," said the student union president.

"We are fully behind the staff and their campaign for a fair pension. It is worth remembering that it is in the university's interest to support staff so they don't feel they should go on strike and can go back to the job they love.

"This is an unfair attack on staff working condition."

Are you affected by the strike action? Contact

Both Queen's and the students union have issued advice to students on what they should do in terms of classes and for handing in coursework on time.

However, some final year students have had classes cancelled.

"It is disappointing the universities could not come to agreement with their staff and they have been forced into taking a strike. We have been encouraging the students to support it and we realise the decision was not taken lightly," continued law graduate Mr McCrystall.

"We have advised students that if they are affected they should write to the university to complain - while expressing support for the action - and look for a refund of part of their tuition fees. Hopefully that will encourage the universities to look for a resolution. We also have advice centres and support officers to provide help.

"It is important the university works to make sure no student is adversely impacted and has proper planning in place and we would hope the universities reconsider their response in response to their staff concerns."

Queen's University was asked how it will protect students from being adversely impacted by the action and if they would be offering refunds.

A spokeswoman said: "Queen’s University is disappointed that UCU has decided to take industrial action over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

"The University does not support industrial action and will be taking all necessary steps to ensure that it is ‘business as usual’, with minimal impact on the quality of services and support provided to our students and other stakeholders.”

UCU Northern Ireland official Katharine Clarke said: "Clearly the managements of our universities are unconcerned about their staff facing poverty in retirement after a lifetime of dedicated service.

"This is totally unacceptable and has left our members with no alternative but to strike to defend the pensions they have paid into over the course of their employment."

An Ulster University spokesperson said: "We understand the strength of feeling amongst staff and recognise that the decision to strike is not taken lightly by University staff.

"Despite this national dispute, we are working hard to minimise the impact of disruption on campus and to ensure that our students are not disadvantaged by the industrial action.

"While there has been some disruption, we are continuing to do everything possible to safeguard both the student and staff experience during this time.

"Undoubtedly a large volume of assessment will be unaffected by the strike, but any that are would be treated sympathetically by the academic staff involved and by Boards of Examiners.

"Fees cover a full range of services provided directly to students in addition to teaching. We have no reason to believe at this stage that any graduations will be delayed or that students will be prevented from completing their programmes of study on time, or progressing as expected because of the industrial action."

The spokesman added: "The USS pension scheme is facing a significant deficit and an affordable solution is crucial to the sustainability of the Higher Education sector. At a national level, negotiations between Universities UK (UUK) and University & College Union (UCU) have been ongoing for many months to identify a way forward in building a stable and secure pension fund, whilst ensuring contributions are affordable for both employees and the universities, and a proposal is now to be consulted upon.”

Do you support the university staff's industrial strike over pensions?

General views of the Ulster University building on Royal Avenue in Belfast on January 10th 2018 (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

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