Open Letter

28th November 2019 

The UCU strikes have now finished. Please find our final statement.

Dear Sir Steve Smith and University of Exeter Senior Management Team, 

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our concerns around the impact of strikes on current students’ education and experience. Furthermore, on behalf of the 78% of respondents to the Students’ Guild poll, we express support for the UCU members who feel that their pay, working conditions and pensions are being undervalued or diminished by this institution and universities across the sector. As a university, we should aim to be sector leading as an equitable institution where everyone can work, learn and study to their highest potential. However, poor working conditions like these only set us back. 

In addition to the poll, the Students’ Guild has received to date nearly 300 responses from students to a survey regarding what impacts the strike is having on their studies and welfare, and what support they need from the institution. By far the biggest concern is missing teaching contact hours, and therefore missing out on assessment content. Impact on their degree classification and concern over lack of support from lecturers made up most of the remaining responses. Over half of the respondents also expected a negative impact on their welfare, mostly related to stress. 

There were numerous ways that students wanted support from the University, with the majority being around mitigation, including how exams and deadlines will be adjusted to counter the impact of the strikes, and what measures are being put in place as alternatives for them to learn the content of their course. Students also want the University to engage in the recommencement of national negotiations as well as play a part locally, in good faith. We understand that the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) have engaged in negotiation with the UCU and that UCEA will consult with university leaders on what may be offered to resolve the dispute [1]. We encourage this institution to play a part in this and we encourage you to listen to the needs of your staff members.  

We are extremely concerned that surveillance measures forced onto universities via the Hostile Environment Policy are undermining students’ political freedom, which has been highlighted by emails sent by other institutions such as Liverpool and Goldsmiths [2]. Students have directly expressed concerns regarding the repercussions to their attendance record that may arise if they miss lectures [3], and visa precarity must not be used against students to pressure them to cross the picket line against their personal choice. 

We are happy to see that University of Exeter has provided clarification that students’ attendance will not be monitored during the strike, as detailed in your online FAQs. However, we encourage you, with utmost urgency, to share this further to ensure all students, particularly international students, understand they have a right to support the strike of which you must honour.

We sincerely hope that home students are also not punished, in any way, for supporting the strike by not crossing the picket line. We know that currently not crossing the picket line does not qualify as ground for mitigation application, but this policy will disadvantage a lot of vulnerable students. There is no way for students to reliably find out whether their lecturers are striking or not. For students who must commute a long distance to campus, it does not financially make sense for them to risk travelling in only to find out their classes are not on. Moreover, for students with disabilities, specifically those who experience sensory overload, crossing the picket line has damaging effects on their welfare. You may argue that the attendance of students with disabilities would be mitigated and covered by their Individual Learning Plan (ILP), but not all disabled students declare their disabilities (because of the stigma around it, for example) and therefore may not have an ILP. Therefore, we insist that the University allow not crossing the picket line as a valid ground for mitigation, to honour and uphold all students’ rights to support the strike. 

We hope that the problems that have caused this dispute are reconciled as soon as possible. Please use your influence to engage in national negotiation with the UCU, and please engage with our local union branch to offer resolution to the dispute. We will continue to gather feedback from our students and work together with our community to make sure they feel supported throughout the dispute. We trust that you will make this your highest priority and work towards a solution to limit the negative impact on students’ education and experience any further.  

Yours sincerely, 

Patrick Hoyle – Students' Guild President 

Penny Dinh – Students' Guild VP Education 

Katie Heard – Students' Guild VP Welfare and Diversity 

Olivia Harvey – Students' Guild VP Activities 

Sunday Blake – Students' Guild VP Postgraduate 

Ginny Thomas – Pro-Vice-President Postgraduate Research  

Co-signed by: 

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University of Exeter Students' Guild is a Charity and Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered Charity Number: 1136468 Company Number: 07217324; registered in England and Wales Registered office: Devonshire House, Stocker Road, Exeter, EX4 4PZ