In an email leaked to Impact, Mike Byrne, Secretary of the University of Nottingham University and College Union admitted that academic staff participating in the strike action in March may not have been missed. Byrne was urging colleagues who took part in the strikes on 22 and 24 March over job security, pay and pensions to register their absence with the Human Resources Department: “…in our sector the point of a one-day strike is largely missed if institutions do not get a clear indication from everyone who participated”, he said, adding: “The fact is that in many cases our absence may not have been noticed!”
The University would not disclose exactly how many staff took part in the strike, so the extent to which teaching programmes were disrupted by the action is unknown, but Andreas Bieler, the local media spokesperson for UCU, admitted that the Union did not manage to persuade all of its members to take part. He blamed this on what he called a “dangerous illusion” amongst some Nottingham academics that their jobs were safe, and also claimed that others may have been more concerned about the potential for the university to take action against them in future as a consequence. “I don’t think the university will take this action”, he said, “but some will have been worried about it… This is not a criticism of these colleagues…if members don’t participate then it is also our failure of not having succeeded in convincing them.”
Bieler rejected the idea that the absence of lecturers would not have been noticed by students, arguing that Byrne was referring to union members who did not have timetabled teaching and did not attend the protest and would therefore more easily have gone unnoticed. But he admitted that the action did not “seriously disrupt” the operation of the university. “To assume that two days of striking would seriously disrupt the operation of the university would be naive”, he said, “the strike was to highlight the situation to a wider audience.” He highlighted positives in the local UCU’s pickets on University Park entrances, and in their linking up with student groups: “This strike wasn’t against them, that’s important.”
A University of Nottingham spokesperson said: “UK Universities are facing extraordinarily difficult times and industrial action at this time can only be damaging to our students and to the University’s future development. At Nottingham we are committed to delivering first rate teaching and learning and an excellent student experience, whilst remaining comprehensive and research intensive. These ambitions will not be compromised by industrial action.
“The University is therefore disappointed at the UCU’s action and concerned at the resulting disruption to our students’ teaching and learning. The University took appropriate action to ensure that disruption caused by the industrial action was kept to a minimum.”