Council chair Joe Cotton at Monday night’s Council sessionLouis Ashworth

CUSU Council entered into a fierce debate last night on the question of whether to support demands for the University to refund students for missed contact hours due to strike action, with a call for refunds dropped after extensive argument.

Council debated refunds for around forty minutes, before the motion was withdrawn, meaning the student union still has no stance of its own on widespread calls for refunds.

After the debate began, Council was quickly divided over whether donations to a University hardship fund should be reallocated to students disproportionately academically affected by the strike.

The Cambridge UCU has stated the University of Cambridge has “agreed that docked pay will go into to [sic] the student hardship fund”. The nature of the hardship fund is unclear; it may refer to the Bell, Abbott, and Barnes Funds, which offer support to students in financial difficulties.


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The University has stated that it will not consider the question of refunded contact hours until the industrial action concludes in mid-March, and that they will only do so if “students believe that, notwithstanding mitigating action the University has taken, they are entitled to compensation”.

Speaking to Varsity on Tuesday, Cambridge UCU branch secretary Dr Waseem Yaqoob said: “Cambridge UCU supports any measures taken by students to pressure the university; we don’t believe it is our place to tell students how to respond to the disruption of their education. But when asked informally – at very short notice – whether we would prefer docked pay to go into refunds or into the student hardship fund, where it will reach those who need it most, we stated a preference for the latter. We have no wish to fix the response that students decide to pursue.”

Murray Edwards student Katie Marsden proposed a motion to support her petition demanding a proportional refund of students’ tuition fees in addition to donations made into the Cambridge hardship fund. The motion rested on the condition that Council would call for refunds if the University of Cambridge failed “to support its staff” in national-level talks taking place this week.

Marsden’s petition is the significantly smaller of two refund petitions currently circulating, with fewer than 50 signatures compared to another, calling for a £300 refund – which has received more than 1,100 signatures.

The discussion was thrown into disarray by a proposed amendment which demanded that “the University reaffirm its commitment to paying withheld staff wages into a student hardship fund”, rather than making direct payments to students. Although JCR members were broadly supportive of the University’s donations to a student hardship fund, some raised objections that the strike action has adversely affected a broader section of the University’s student population deserving of compensation for missed teaching hours.

The amendment received criticism from Murray Edwards JCR vice-president Georgia Semple, who argued that as “there are humanities students who have had all of their lectures cancelled”, that it would be “only fair” for funds to be directed “to students most affected by the strikes”.

Marsden said that she doesn’t “realistically see the University giving money back” to students, but instead regards the motion as a way to place additional pressure on the University in pension negotiations.

The motion was withdrawn over concerns that Cambridge UCU could be opposed to students’ demands for compensation as a potential means by which the University could antagonise students against striking staff. CUSU Education candidate Matt Kite argued that the “demand for reimbursement [is] being co-opted by the Universities Minister” and citing the recent offer by King’s College London to refund students for the disruption to courses.

Students previously held a large rally on the first day of strikes

CUSU Women’s Officer Lola Olufemi echoed Kite in arguing that students asking for refunds would be playing into “how our education’s being marketised”.

However, many students present were in favour of a push for refunded contact hours. St. Catherine’s student Tohin Munshi argued that especially “for finalists, their education has been disrupted” by strikes and are therefore deserving of financial compensation, while Homerton JCR vice-president Ben McGuigan added: “As a student paying £9,000 a year, I think I am entitled to receive a refund”.

Although supportive of the initial motion, CUSU International Campaign chair Leo Paillard questioned how the Council would propose financial compensation to international students, as international students pay “the exact amount of money their education costs”.

After extended discussion, Marsden and members of Cambridge Defend Education including Kite left the room, in order to formulate a new motion based on the discussion and the proposed amendments. When they returned, Marsden said she would be withdrawing the motion.

CUSU Presidential candidate Connor MacDonald posted on Facebook soon after the Council rescinded the motion, commenting: “I’m very disappointed that the motion on reimbursement was effectively withdrawn with the tacit approval of CUSU Council.” MacDonald added, “CUSU should be far more willing to defend the interests and rights of students, as well as support our striking lecturers.”


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Siyang Wei, another candidate, was supportive of the Council’s decision to rescind the motion from debate. They described “a lack of clarity about the original motion”, and added that “the decision to withdraw it was fine as it was a product of democracy”.

Speaking to Varsity, fellow candidate Evie Aspinall added: “I understand the principle behind appealing for refunds,” but said “I don’t think there was ever a realistic proposition to get the University to give money back to students.” She continued, “I think the idea of putting it towards a hardship fund is a very positive one”.

Council also passed a motion condemning the “aggressive harassment” directed toward students by picketers, following criticism of the student union’s approach toward student welfare during the strike action.

The room was split again in discussing whether encouraging students to avoid crossing pickets was productive – CUCA vice-chair Dylan Coll-Reed argued that “CUSU should be representing all the views of students at the university, not just the political views who are trying to run the narrative of the strikes”, whereas NUS delegate Angus Satow said that students crossing picket lines was “obviously damaging to the strike”.

The motion, which eventually passed without opposition, called on CUSU to “release a statement condemning any allegations of misconduct, reiterating CUSU’s support for the strikes while emphasising that some students must cross lines and their choice to do so must be respected”, to provide “guidance to students who are concerned about working relationships with supervisors/lecturers post-strike”, and to offer welfare support to students affected by harassment at the picket lines.

The heated debate at CUSU Council occurred after academics and university staff took to the picket lines in the sixth day of industrial action, which is likely to continue on every teaching day for the remainder of Lent term except for Friday 9th March.

  • Update (9:13am, 6/3/18): This article was update to include a comment from Cambridge UCU 

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