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‘Very disappointed’: Edinburgh University open day overshadowed by striking staff

Prospective students expressed concern over Edinburgh University’s reputation as UCAS deadline closes


The University of Edinburgh’s open day, typically an opportunity for prospective students to get a taste of university life, was overshadowed this Friday as staff members of the University and College Union (UCU) Edinburgh chapter staged a protest on campus, striking as part of the UCU Marking and Assessment Boycott. The resulting disruption has brought the university’s reputation into sharp focus.

The UCU’s boycott is part of the union’s broader “Four Fights” dispute against the university, highlighting issues of unfair workload, pay inequality, job insecurity, and increasing casualisation of staff. As part of the boycott, UCU members refrained from marking or setting assessments, releasing results, or participating in any activity related to assessments or examinations.

The university’s open day, traditionally filled with information sessions, campus tours and prospective student enthusiasm, morphed into a platform for protest. Staff members from the UCU were visibly present, using the event to draw attention to their dispute with the university.

Courtesy of UCU Scotland

The picket line outside of McEwan Hall caused a stir with prospective students and their families, who appeared visibly distressed by the tutors and lecturers protesting in Bristo Square, discouraging them from entering and handing out flyers and pamphlets about the union’s demands. This, however, did not deter many, as most families continued into the buildings, often opting to ignore the pamphlets given to them.

Speaking to prospective students, most said the strikes had not deterred them. Elle and Betty, two of the prospective students The Edinburgh Tab talked to at the open day, said the picket lines and protests have not deterred them from coming to the university. They said union members have received the attention they wanted, with the action deliberately coinciding with the one day hopeful students from across the globe have flocked to the university’s campus. 

Another prospective student, Ellie, agreed, saying the open day was meant to be a time to “promote and celebrate” the university and that open day was “not the best day” to protest strike action.

Another prospective student, Ellie, agreed, saying the open day was meant to be a time to “promote and celebrate” the university and that open day was “not the best day” to protest strike action.

However, many talks went ahead, despite visiting students being forced to cross the picket lines. Amelia’s friend Hannah said she hadn’t been affected by any cancellations.

Edinburgh University, traditionally one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the UK, finds its reputation threatened by ongoing disputes.

Critics argue ongoing tensions between the university and its staff could discourage prospective students from applying, potentially impacting admission numbers and the university’s overall standing in future league tables.

Scottish television presenter and journalist Kaye Adams said she is “very disappointed” in the university’s attempt at a “half-open” day, going ahead without any talks due to the strikes.

The boycott culminated in protracted negotiations between the UCU and the university administration. The union has accused the university of not addressing their concerns, leading to the decision to escalate their protests.

The university, on its part, has expressed disappointment at the UCU’s decision to disrupt academic activities and says it remains open to constructive dialogue. “Pay and pensions are nationally negotiated, which is the system preferred by UCU”, it said. “We recognise the importance of partnership working with all three of our recognised Unions to continue our focus on the experiences of colleagues working at the university in areas where we are able to make improvements outside of the national negotiations. On many of the issues raised by UCU around casualisation, inequality and workload, we have already made important progress and we continue to strive for further improvements.”

In an interview, UCU Edinburgh member Dr Claire Duncanson said: “A far better course of action would have been for the universities to get around the table and talk about pay rather than pushing these devalued degrees.”

The events of Friday’s open day brought this ongoing conflict into stark relief, creating a ripple effect that could influence the decisions of prospective students as the final deadline to accept university offers closes today. As the dispute continues, the impact on Edinburgh University’s reputation could be long-lasting, putting pressure on the administration to resolve the matter swiftly and satisfactorily.

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “Our open day has proceeded as planned. Regrettably, we had to cancel some sessions owing to planned industrial action taking place today. We communicated all known programme changes to attendees in advance and apologised for any disappointment this may have caused. The majority of our activities went ahead and we were happy to welcome prospective students so that they could learn more about studying at the University of Edinburgh.”

“Pay and pensions are nationally negotiated, which is the system preferred by UCU. We recognise the importance of partnership working with all three of our recognised Unions to continue our focus on the experiences of colleagues working at the university in areas where we are able to make improvements outside of the national negotiations. On many of the issues raised by UCU around casualisation, inequality and workload, we have already made important progress and we continue to strive for further improvements. We have been a Voluntary Living Wage employer since 2012 and we have not used zero-hour contracts since 2014. We continue to work with the UCU Edinburgh branch on reviews into fixed term contract use, our pay grade scale and our equality actions to reduce pay gaps.

“We have robust measures in place to reduce the impact of industrial action while maintaining academic standards. Many students will receive marks for their degree, or progression in their degree, as in any other year. Some students will be impacted by the boycott, and in these cases we may only be able to define a provisional award. For others, a decision regarding the outcome of their degree may be delayed. We have committed to ensuring that all marks are accounted for and once any missing marks are available, students’ results can only improve on their provisional grade. 

“The University continues to provide world-class education for our students, and a degree from Edinburgh remains as valuable as it has been for more than 400 years.”

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