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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

“A clear message”: Strike action looms as lecturers express fears over possible cuts

83% of students would back strikes, Gaudie poll finds 

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Photo Credit: Aberdeen UCU

As tensions grow over proposals to cull staff in the University’s modern language department, strikes during the spring term may be inevitable. 

The local branch of academic union UCU has urged members to vote for strike action over threatened redundancies in the department. 

And more than eight in ten students would back any planned action, a Gaudie poll has found. 

Citing declining student enrolment, UoA senior management launched a consultation on the future of language provision on 30 November. Facing intense public opposition, University bosses backtracked from plans which would have axed all language degree programmes in early December. 

However, alternative proposals could result in more than half of the department’s thirty employees being made redundant. 

And a voluntary severance scheme organised by management has been widely panned. with one staff member describing the offering as "very bad" and another labelling it as "absolutely vile." 

A recent report in The Press and Journal focused on the stress and anxiety faced by department staff as questions swirl around their future employment. 

One lecturer said: “The weeks leading up to the Christmas break were pretty horrible and very upsetting. It was really hard to switch off.

“It did not feel like the holidays for a good period.”

Another staff member added: “Returning for a new year and a new semester under those circumstances is very hard.

“It’s hard to prepare for classes that you don’t know if you are going to teach beyond this year.”

On 4 January, Aberdeen UCU officially launched an industrial action ballot, asking members whether the union should go on strike over the threatened redundancies. The ballot will run until 7 February. 

Branch chair of Aberdeen UCU, Dr Rachel Shanks, commented that management plans, which would also cut single honours language degrees, were an “embarrassment” for the University.

She added: “It's clear that this is just the start of senior management's plans. It's important that members send a clear message that we don't accept the need for jobs to be lost and that we will stand behind and support any member whose job is threatened.

“It's clear that senior managers at the university are ignoring their own students, staff and senate and bringing into question the nature of the way the university is managed.

"It's time the university principal and senior managers listened to staff and students."

A poll conducted by The Gaudie found that 83% of respondents would back strike action if it occurred this spring.

One second year student told us: 

“As students, we don't get to choose whether our lecturers strike, but by directing our anger at the real cause of the issue (Senior Management and their shortsighted proposals), we can work towards a better outcome for staff and students. 

“Quality teaching happens when lecturers are supported and respected, not when their careers are being threatened.”

Another added: “Lectures are already being affected by the amount of stress staff are under. We need to send a message to management that they can't get away with this.

However, not all students believe that the strikes should take place.

One student noted: “I get it, but there will be so much disruption over something that affects so few people. We can't keep going like this.”

Meanwhile, a group of student protestors and AUSA representatives travelled to Holyrood in mid-January, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the closures.

During the debate, a number of politicians expressed support for staff and discussed the importance of modern language teaching.

Former Rector of the University and MSP for NE Scotland Maggie Chapman (Scottish Greens) said that the University must continue to provide a “comphrensive” education to the citizens of the North East. 

Ms Chapman also expressed fears that the cuts would damage the University’s reputation, noting:

“The integrity of the institution is stake... what is easy to shatter will take much longer to rebuild.”

University alumnus Alisdair Allan (MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar) also spoke about the importance of multilingualism and Gaelic study. 

Finally, Scottish Government minister for higher education Graeme Dey urged University management to “carefully consider” their proposals. 

He told the chamber that he would press management to allow student representation on the steering group overseeing the consultation. 

The University has insisted that affected staff have been offered support.

A spokesperson commented: “We have communicated with colleagues on the range of support services available at the university, which includes access to our counselling service, 24/7 access to our staff helpline, and the availability of support through our HR team and campus trade unions.”

Noting that senior management and UCU leaders had been in contact, the spokesperson added: “In the event of industrial action, our aim as always will be to ensure any impact on students is minimised as far as possible.”


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