News  ⁄  Education & skills

University of Exeter strike ends third week with rally and concert at St David's Church

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in four weeks of national industrial action over pensions, equal pay for female and BAME staff, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment contracts.

University of exeter   Exeter ucu   Higher education   Pensions   Zero hours contracts   Casualisation  

Staff at the University of Exeter yesterday reached the end of a third week of industrial action over employment conditions.

Strikers marched through the city centre before holding a rally at St David’s Church which included free teaching sessions and a performance by protest singer Billy Bragg.

This round of industrial action began on 20 February with a two day strike, which was followed last week by a three day strike. This week’s four strike days are to be followed by five strike days next week.

Academic staff were joined on the strike by support staff from across the university as pickets were held at Streatham and St Luke’s campus entrances. Nac Datta, a research information technology officer taking part, said it was “not just a lecturers strike”.

Students have also been occupying university buildings in solidarity with the strikers.

Exeter University & College Union strike third week rally at St David's Church - Billy Bragg concert Billy Bragg playing at St David’s Church during Exeter UCU strike rally

The current strike is the latest chapter in a dispute that has been going on for two years over pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment contracts.

Last November an eight day strike was held in protest at the university’s extensive use of zero hours and short term contracts, a practice that is widespread in the sector, as well as pension scheme changes.

The University of Exeter is the sixth most insecure employer in the Russell Group, and 23rd most insecure among 165 UK higher education institutions, with 64% of all academic staff employed on insecure contracts.

And in March 2018 there was significant disruption on campuses across the country in response to pension scheme changes that affected 61 UK higher education institutions.

Exeter University & College Union strike picket at Streatham campus University of Exeter UCU strike picket at Streatham campus. Photo: @SabinaLeonelli.

The University & College Union (UCU) is striking over four issues: pay, employee workloads, use of casual contracts and pensions.

Alongside a pay increase in line with inflation the union wants to close gender and ethnic pay gaps. While the median gender pay gap in the sector is 13.7%, the University of Exeter’s 2019 gender pay gap was 18.6%, more than double the national average of 8.9%.

The union is also seeking the introduction of a 35 hour working week in their employment contracts.

Dr Sharon Strawbridge, Exeter UCU President and senior lecturer in physics, said: “A typical lecturer will be contracted for 37 hours a week, and often works between 50 and 70 hours.

“We have a system where the university’s bottom line is predicated on people working above and beyond their contracted hours.”

To address this issue, the union embarked on “action short of a strike” in November last year, in which staff do not perform unpaid work outside their contracted hours, do not cover for absent colleagues, do not reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and do not undertake any voluntary activities.

Exeter University & College Union strike third week rally at St David's Church - Sharon Strawbridge speech Exeter UCU President Sharon Strawbridge speaking during Exeter UCU strike rally

Casualisation, or use of casual employment contracts, also became a UCU campaign focus last November.

A 2019 survey found that part-time and hourly paid teaching staff perform 45% of their work without pay, while 71% of the survey’s respondents said that they believed their mental health had been damaged by working on insecure contracts.

But it was changes to staff pensions that originally prompted the union to take action in 2018.

UK universities invest in a sector-wide pension scheme, changes to which affect over 400,000 people.

The changes at the centre of the dispute will increase pension contributions while reducing benefits, leaving a typical scheme member £240,000 worse off.

Exeter University & College Union strike picket at St Luke's campus University of Exeter UCU strike picket at St Luke’s campus. Photo: @lcpilling.

University of Exeter students expressed mixed feelings about the latest round of strikes.

A third year international law student who did not want to be named said: “Because of the strikes we missed out on an entire topic”, but also said he “sympathised with the staff 100%.”

Simone, a second year English student said: “Everything of mine’s been cancelled” but that she was nevertheless attending the rally in support of the strike.

Other students have been taking part in direct action in solidarity with the strikers, including camping on management car parking spaces for two nights in wintery conditions in February and again in March, saying they would vacate them if staff were to receive equal pay.

The group also occupied a lecture theatre overnight.

A spokesperson for the group said: “We were guaranteed no disciplinary action unless we engaged in criminal behaviour.

“However our treatment has changed dramatically from not being allowed food, water or access to toilets for hours to being watched even while we sleep”.

The occupying students left the next day after being threatened with legal action by the university, which said the students had “no mandate for causing disruption”.


UPDATE 9 March 2020:

Another rally planned for the end of the fourth week of the strike on Friday 13 March, in partnership with youth climate crisis campaigners Fridays For Future Exeter, has been cancelled in response to the developing coronavirus pandemic.


 is an artist and campaigner working in marketing and events.

 


Recent stories
UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel holdings

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel investment position exposed by Shell and BP AGM votes

District heating network diagram

South West Exeter district heating network plan abandoned

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Interim Devon Carbon Plan consultation responses net zero target date preferences

Devon Carbon Plan consultation finds majority want net zero by 2030


Support Exeter Observer

Join Exeter Observer

More News
District heating network diagram

South West Exeter district heating network plan abandoned

Property developers refuse to back scheme despite local authorities committing £7.3 million to project to supply 2500 new homes with waste heat from Marsh Barton incinerator, Exeter's largest single source of carbon emissions.

Interim Devon Carbon Plan consultation responses net zero target date preferences

Devon Carbon Plan consultation finds majority want net zero by 2030

Devon Climate Emergency Response Group questions whether 2030 "realistic" and suggests "palatable" compromise while only 13% of consultees support UK government's 2050 target.

Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall - Inauguration of Lord Mayor

High Court rules council meetings must resume in person after local elections

Case seeking judgement to allow local authority meetings to continue remotely when temporary coronavirus regulations expire fails to override requirement for primary legislation.

All News
More Education & Skills
Striking University of Exeter history lecturers Dr Jennifer Farrell and Dr Gemma Clark

University of Exeter staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in a national eight day strike for fair pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, and against casualisation and increasing workloads.

Rhian Keyse speaking at Exeter UCU's anti-casualisation campaign launch

Education union challenges university to address widespread casualisation of teaching staff

Exeter University & College Union (UCU) launched an anti-casualisation campaign on Friday as a prelude to negotiation with the University of Exeter over academic staff contracts.

Analysis
Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel holdings

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel investment position exposed by Shell and BP AGM votes

Shareholder support for Paris Agreement-compatible goals increases but fails to prevent continuing oil and gas exploration, extraction, production or consumption as experts intensify warnings that emissions reductions goals will be missed.

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

Electoral Commission ballot box graphic

2021 Exeter local elections guide

Elections for Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner are taking place in Exeter on 6 May. Our essential election guide highlights wards and divisions to watch, changes taking place and how, when and where to vote.

All Analysis
Comment
UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

All Comment
Transport & Mobility
Train at Okehampton Station in 2015

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

£40 million Department for Transport "Restoring your Railway" funding to enable trains every two hours by end of this year, with plans to increase to hourly service during 2022. Stakeholders combine to get South West infrastructure needs onto Whitehall agenda.

Pedestrians and people waiting at bus stop on Exeter Cowick Street

Council abandons temporary COVID-19 cycling and walking safety plans in Exeter city centre

Devon County Council cites "pushback" from traders as schemes on North Street, South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street are scrapped. Meanwhile temporary changes in Topsham are dropped after "snap poll".

Cyclists, pedestrians and cars compete for space on Union Road, Exeter, 1 June 2020

Devon County Council fails to deliver promised COVID-19 cycling and walking infrastructure

Deadline for action on social distancing for safe travel set by county cabinet member passes despite Devon receiving £1.7 million share of government emergency fund.

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Empty retail units at The Depot Purpose Built Student Accommodation block on Cheeke Street in Exeter

Developer plans to convert retail units in Exeter city centre block to additional student bedrooms

Conversion of five of eleven shop/leisure units at The Depot on Cheeke Street would add nineteen rooms to existing 715 bedrooms in monolithic PBSA.

Maclaines Warehouses beside Exeter ship canal

Maclaines Warehouses development tests Exeter Heritage Harbour status

Decisions taken behind closed doors in favour of commercial interests threaten maritime and waterway heritage vision for Exeter’s historic quay, canal and canal basin.

Clydesdale and Birks development illustrative view

University plans to demolish 30 buildings to construct ~50,000m2 of new student accommodation

Permission sought for 1,250 new bedrooms on fifteen acre Streatham campus Clydesdale and Birks development site, half as large again as 1,200 bedroom East Park development.

All Planning & Place
Arts & Culture
Exeter Princesshay Debenhams closing down sale

Top floor of former Debenhams store to be converted into cinema

Princesshay owner's proposals for change of use to four screen cinema and cafe/bar have been under discussion since November 2019.

Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

Photo of The Jambassadors by Gabe Riedlinger

Jambassadors feature in pop-up Jazz Toast at Barnfield Theatre

Musical director Roz Harding invites us to join an Exeter College Music Academy student collective in a one-night-only experimental exploration of in-the-moment improvisation.

All Arts & Culture
Climate & Environment
UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel holdings

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel investment position exposed by Shell and BP AGM votes

Shareholder support for Paris Agreement-compatible goals increases but fails to prevent continuing oil and gas exploration, extraction, production or consumption as experts intensify warnings that emissions reductions goals will be missed.

District heating network diagram

South West Exeter district heating network plan abandoned

Property developers refuse to back scheme despite local authorities committing £7.3 million to project to supply 2500 new homes with waste heat from Marsh Barton incinerator, Exeter's largest single source of carbon emissions.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall - Inauguration of Lord Mayor

High Court rules council meetings must resume in person after local elections

Case seeking judgement to allow local authority meetings to continue remotely when temporary coronavirus regulations expire fails to override requirement for primary legislation.

Electoral Commission ballot box graphic

2021 Exeter local elections guide

Elections for Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner are taking place in Exeter on 6 May. Our essential election guide highlights wards and divisions to watch, changes taking place and how, when and where to vote.

All Democracy & Governance
Economy & Enterprise
Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

Small retail businesses on Paris Street, Exeter

Half of COVID-19 support grants unclaimed by Exeter businesses

Exeter City Council in bottom third of local authorities as only 45% of eligible local businesses claim government coronavirus support money.

All Economy & Enterprise
Community & Society
Great Western Hotel beside Exeter St David's railway station

Exeter rough sleepers in COVID-19 emergency accommodation face uncertain future

Exeter City Council has yet to confirm whether it will use any of the £2.15m Rough Sleeping Initiative funding it has received since 2018 to keep housing rough sleepers when government emergency accommodation funding runs out.

Night shelter for homeless and rough sleepers in Magdalen Street, Exeter (front)

Exeter rough sleepers night shelter to open all year round

Exeter City Council has approved plans to extend Magdalen Street night shelter opening from April to the end of September.

Sally Ride, America's first woman astronaut communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck

University of Exeter PRISM network champions queer STEMM pioneers

Exeter students celebrated the lives of polar explorer and botanist Elke Mackenzie, inventor, engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla and astronaut and children's author Sally Ride in winning LGBT+ network competition entries.

All Community & Society