Edinburgh students occupy David Hume Tower in solidarity with striking lecturers

University students in the capital have occupied David Hume Tower at George Square in support of striking education staff.

Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 6:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 6:41 pm

The move comes as members of the University College Union (UCU) entered the second day of an eight-day stoppage in a row over pay and pensions.

The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), with the union claiming there has been a failure by institutions to make improvements on equality and workloads.

A total of 12 Scottish universities are involved in the UK-wide dispute including Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt.

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Now Edinburgh students have joined the demonstrations, occupying all 14 floors of David Hume Tower.

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Staff at Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities launch eight-day strike

The UCU say there 15% difference in gender pay and that the race pay gap at Russell Group universities such as Edinburgh is as high as 26%.

Student demonstrators are also calling for an end to casual contracts which cause stress and hamper living conditions as well as demanding a 'fairer work load' for all teaching staff.

Edinburgh students have occupied the university's David Hume Tower in solidarity with striking teaching staff. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The union's final demand, which follows on from a strike last year, calls for staff pension security. Figures released by the UCU show younger staff could pay up to £40,000 more in contributions and still receive up to £200,000 less in overall retirement pay.

Commodification of education

In a statement, the students of the occupation said: "As students we recognise that the conditions of all staff profoundly shape the learning conditions of all students.

"Our university and quality of education is in continual decline due to the policies of the UK government and university management.

Students in Edinburgh have joined the UCU strike against pay and pension disparity. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

"We are here as students to express that we will no longer accept the further marketisation and commodification of education and teaching.

"We contest the working conditions, employment contracts and the university's policies that workers must endure."

They added that their protest if 'fundamentally anti-capitalist' and that the building remains open to students standing in solidarity with staff.

On top of strike action, union members are also taking other forms of industrial action including working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule teaching lost during the strikes.

Challenging economic environment

The university says the strikes are not the way forward and that they are working to limit the impact on students.

A spokeswoman for the University of Edinburgh said: "The university understands the strength of feeling amongst staff.

"We fully support benefits for staff that make Edinburgh an even better place to work, and these include fair pay and a secure pension.

"However, the sector overall faces a challenging economic environment, so these benefits need to be affordable and sustainable over the long term."

They added that pay and pensions are negotiated on a national level on behalf of all universities and that recent increases to USS employer contributions have added £9.6 million to Edinburgh's annual costs.

The nationwide strike is set to continue until December 4.