Vice-Chancellor calls for ‘immediate’ return to negotiation table

Juliette Bretan 23 February 2018



The University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, called earlier today for negotiations between Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU) to resume after a second day of strike action.

In a statement released via the University’s Twitter page, the Vice-Chancellor writes that the industrial action which has taken place up and down the country is ‘deeply regrettable’, calling for an ‘imperative’ resolution to the current situation. ‘We have a duty to students to ensure they receive the best possible education,’ he added. ‘But equally I understand the deep concerns of academics.’

The Vice-Chancellor’s message adds to a list of other university vice-chancellors who are calling for a return to the negotiation table between the two clashing organisations, UUK and UCU. Other universities whose chiefs have called for more discussions include Newcastle, Goldsmiths, Essex, Durham and Glasgow.

Strike action in Cambridge, along with over 60 other universities across the country, began yesterday, with striking due to last until 28 February. According to Cambridge Defend Education, over two hundred University of Cambridge staff and students took part in protests yesterday, with a large demonstration outside Senate House at midday. A similar rally took place again today, where Waseem Yaquoob, the Cambridge UCU branch secretary, was met with loud cheers as he announced that the Vice-Chancellor had joined the ‘dissenters’.

According to UCU information, Cambridge and Oxford, two of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious universities, have been at the forefront of the proposed reforms to pensions, which could see University staff pensions being reduced up to 40%. Despite tuition fees rising to an all-time high of £9,250, university staff pay has fallen by 14% following the third cut in salary over the last six years. 

Cambridge Defend Education spokesperson, Amy Clark, spoke yesterday to protesters outside Senate House, saying: ‘UUK and university managements are attempting to divide students and staff, framing this strike as damaging to the ‘student experience’. But students know that what really damages their education is fees rising while staff suffer real terms pay cuts and worse conditions, and increasingly extortionate rents to fund shiny new buildings.’

In a statement today, Cambridge Defend Education said:

Cambridge Defend Education welcomes Stephen Toope’s call today for Universities UK to come back to the table with the Universities’ and Colleges’ Union. That this call comes now is proof that the strike is working. The actions of staff and students who have supported them are disrupting the university. We have made it clear that there cannot be business as usual, because the biggest wage grab ever in UK higher education is not business as usual. 

But he must do more. Negotiations will only recommence when UUK nationally are prepared to engage with them. Toope must fight for UCU’s demands within UUK, joining the numerous other university vice-chancellors who have admitted publicly that universities have been unreasonable. He must push for UUK to abandon its project of relentlessly marketizing universities, which is the driving force behind attempts to cut staff costs as well as rising fees and excessive salaries for senior management. Campaigning from students and staff in Cambridge has been clear that this is not an isolated issue, and organising around all forms of marketisation will continue beyond this strike for pensions.

Students and staff have made an impact in the first two days of the strike. Think what we can do in 12.”