At the launch of a new regulator for higher education in England, the Office for Students, universities minister Sam Gyimah said students should receive compensation for missed lectures and classes during the recent strikes.
“Gone are the days when students venerated institutions and were thankful to be admitted. We are in a new age - the age of the student”
Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister
The UCU strike action over proposed pension reform entered its fifth day on February 28th, and tens of thousands of students have now signed online petitions demanding compensation for the teaching time they have lost as a result.
Conciliation talks between the union and Universities UK are set to resume from Monday March 5th, but in the mean-time the strikes are going ahead.
Speaking at Westminster to representatives from universities, Sam Gyimah asked them to “step up to the plate” to give students what they expected from their university experience.
He suggested that acts of compensation could take the form of rescheduling cancelled lectures, and using money saved by institutions from not paying striking lecturers to support students.
The minister said: “Ultimately it is those students that are paying the salaries of the striking staff and I don’t want them to suffer any more than they need to in terms of their education.”
Mr Gyimah noted that recent times had seen universities under greater scrutiny, particularly with regards to funding and vice-chancellors’ pay. He said: “Some in the sector see this as a sort of annus horribilis for higher education, a storm to be weathered in the hope of calmer times ahead.
“I think this is a mistaken reading. This is not a blip. To paraphrase one Conservative prime minister, we are once again experiencing the ‘winds of change’ in the university sector.
“Gone are the days when students venerated institutions and were thankful to be admitted. We are in a new age – the age of the student.”
Mr Gyimah told The Independent that King’s College London were considering directly compensating students for teaching missed due to strike action, and that he thought this was “absolutely essential.”
A spokesperson for King’s said: “King’s will not accrue any financial benefit from the industrial action by UCU and any salary savings will be ring-fenced as a fund which we can use to offset the impact of the strike on our students.”
Newcastle University’s Vice-Chancellor Chris Day addressed the issue of compensation for students at an open-forum discussion about the indsutrial action which he hosted on February 16th.
On the day, he said that money saved from not paying striking lecturers would be treated as a “windfall”. He said that it would “go into a fund that will be used specifically for students” and that the university would be “looking for suggestions” from students as to how it is spent.