Leicester UCU Calls Upon Vice-Chancellor to be a ‘Real Citizen of Change’

Leicester University and College Union’s Dr Joseph Choonara called upon Vice-Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah to act as a ‘real Citizen of Change’ during a Students’ Union-hosted panel debate last Monday.

Making reference to the University of Leicester’s marketing slogan, this statement comes after the ‘unprecedented’ move of calling 18 days of strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions.

He also directly called on the Executive Board to ‘reconsider its position’ and to ‘stop criticising UCU for the action it’s taking.’ Although the UCU has since called a national ‘two week period of calm’ on Friday, the panel debate took place earlier in the week.

This follows several years of unrest between the University of Leicester Executive Board and the UCU’s Leicester branch, involving job cuts, allegations of bullying and a global academic boycott of the university in 2021.

Within his speech, Dr Choonara claimed that ‘in the modern university system, staff have become shock absorbers.’ He also reiterated that striking staff are ‘serious about defending education in this country,’ crediting it as their ‘life’s work.’

‘Our working conditions are your learning conditions’

While acknowledging that other sectors, like school teachers and health workers, are also hit by pay cuts in real terms, the long-held stance that there is simply not enough money available to meet UCU demands was questioned by Dr Choonara, with speculation about the priorities within universities sitting on ‘cash surpluses of £3.4 billion.’ He pointed out that this equates to £7000 for every staff member working in higher education.

Later referencing this directly, Vice-Chancellor Canagarajah combated this stance by claiming that ‘sixty per cent of the surplus is held by seven institutions,’ while the remainder of the institutions have ‘no money to the same degree to afford that.’

He continued: ‘it’s not like we can go and tell Oxford – can you give us some of your surplus so we can pay [an] increased salary for my staff in Leicester? It doesn’t work like that.’

The Union-hosted panel consisted of three representatives of Leicester UCU and three members of the University of Leicester’s Executive Board

In figures put together by UCU, it was claimed that ‘universities are preparing to splash out £4.6 billion on capital expenditure – far more than [they] have asked for to resolve this dispute.’

By referencing the ‘significant economic crisis’ in the UK, the Vice Chancellor brought attention to pay and pensions disputes as a national UCU issue.

‘The reason that the university staff pay hasn’t gone up’ was said to be directly related to the ‘teaching fee income,’ with university tuition fees remaining consistent at £9250 per year for the last ten years.

When directly questioned on how much of his £250,000 salary has been cut, given the alleged ‘dire’ financial state of the University, Nishan clarified that he has received no cut – and that doing so is ‘not going to solve the problem entirely.’

Instead, he pointed towards ‘planning a sustainable solution in the long run.’ Dr Choonara, meanwhile, asserted that ‘it is a scandal that low paid staff in this university are dependent on food banks.’

This article forms part of ongoing coverage surrounding strike action and related disputes at the University of Leicester.

You can watch the full panel debate via the Students’ Union here.

Ella is a BA English graduate and postgraduate student, studying MA Digital Media & Society. She enjoys keeping up with pop culture and is particularly interested in the complex relationship between media consumption and mental health. Find her on Instagram here and Twitter here.

Feature Image: Ella Johnson

Editor-in-Chief at Leicester Student Magazine | Website | + posts

22 | Leicester/Coventry

Ella Johnson

22 | Leicester/Coventry

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