Leicester students occupy corridor to strike back against unfair pensions for lecturers

By Sophie Sandberg

This week marked the second week of the University and College Union (UCU) strike at Leicester University and students occupied the university’s administrative corridor to demand better pensions for their lecturers.

Lecturers at the University of Leicester (UOL) have been taking a stand against unfair pension benefits and started a four-week strike.

In support, as part of the strike, 21 students ‘took over’ the administrative corridor outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office on Monday to show solidarity with their lecturers and to protest against the new chancellor elect, David Willetts.

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Leicester students demonstrated in solidarity with their lecturers

One of the students who took part in the sit-in, Naomi Burnley, a Film Studies and English student at UoL, said: “We were occupying the Fielding Johnson building for the purpose of protesting against David Willetts as our chancellor elect and in support and solidarity with our striking lecturers and staff.

“It’s important to support our lecturers and staff whilst their pensions are being threatened, especially as our Vice-Chancellor Paul Boyle gets paid £250,000 a year.”

The cost of future pensions has risen by one-third in the last three years, and the USS has a deficit of £6.1 billion, which by law must be reduced.

David Harvie, from Leicester University and College Union, said: “Professor Boyle is a key figure in this dispute as he sits on the executive board of Universities UK, the body that manages academics’ USS pension.”

“Under the new scheme, the average loss for a new starter is likely to be close to £208,000.

“Here at University of Leicester, 86% of staff voted for a strike action on a turnout of 69% (the sixth-highest in the country).”

An extra £1 billion pounds a year would be needed to maintain current pension benefits, according to Universities UK.

Arther Mirza, Director of the News Centre at UoL, said: “Professor Paul Boyle met with staff who were part of UCU, as well as students, to listen to their concerns regarding the USS pension scheme.

“As well as the normal engagements with staff and students, the Vice- Chancellor suggested during the meeting that he meets again with the UCU and Students’ Union members to maintain discussions and dialogue around their areas of concern.”

The strike is set to end on March 16 and all lecturers are expected to return to normal, in the meantime UCU are organising free workshops for students to take part in.

 

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The demonstrants outside the occupied building

 

Holiday misery for students stranded in Amsterdam by ‘Beast from the East’

By Ollie Churm

Two university students from Leicester and Birmingham were stranded in Amsterdam after the ‘Beast from the East’ weather system forced their flight home to be cancelled.

Leicester and most of the UK was plagued last week with horrendous weather that was tagged ‘the Beast From The East’.

Temperatures reached as low as -6° and snow covered most of the country, causing transport delays and cancelled flights.

Erin Howell, 19, a psychology student from Leicester and her partner from Birmingham, were stranded in Amsterdam last Friday when their flight to Birmingham was cancelled due to the bad weather conditions.

They were forced to wait an extra three days before they finally got a flight home on Monday, a delay which cost her an extra £400 and to take time off university.

Miss Howell said not only was the cancelled flight inconvenient, but she accused the airline KLM, who they dealt with, of being extremely rude to them. Staff didn’t let them know the flight was cancelled until 20 minutes before they were meant to board, making it difficult to make other arrangements.

“After we were told the flight was cancelled, the staff were really rude, saying they didn’t know when the next flight would be, and we would have to sort everything ourselves,” she said.

“They didn’t give us any information on how to get another flight or what to do if we didn’t have any more money. So, I then ended up spending an extra £400 which I’m unsure if I will get refunded.”

The extra money Erin spent means she will be struggle with her finances, especially as she has her car insurance to pay soon as well.

Although the stress of this experience did take away from her enjoyment of the holiday, she said they tried to make the most of the extra days in Amsterdam, which turned out to be the days with the best weather.

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DMU to run Mandarin and Chinese summer school

By Matthew Chandler

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A summer school offering De Montfort University (DMU) staff and students the chance to learn Mandarin and explore Chinese culture on campus will take place in June.

The summer school, run by the DMU Confucius Institute, will run from Monday, June 25, to Friday, June 29, and will include activities such as learning basic Mandarin used in daily life and participating in various traditional Chinese art forms.

Mark Charlton, head of public engagement at DMU Square Mile, said: “Our courses allow people to have a greater understanding of Chinese culture; it gives people the opportunity to learn new languages.

“Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is useful for many things, especially business, and we are able to offer interesting activities that are more creative.”

 

Mark, who speaks a small amount of Mandarin himself, hopes to continue the university’s good work in partnership with the University of Science and Technology Beijing (USTB) by eventually visiting the country, and highlighted the importance of understanding and appreciating Chinese culture.

“Sometimes the United Kingdom does not promote the value of learning foreign languages as well as other countries,” he said.

“I think as a university we recognise the importance of a global community and the ability to communicate together in different ways. China is a global economic power and it is important economically that the country maintains a strong relationship with China.

“Culturally it is important that we teach people the many different interesting and positive elements of their culture.”

Classes will run every day from Monday to Friday from 10am to midday and 1.30 to 3.30pm.

Places on the summer school are limited to 20 and is a first come, first served opportunity. You can sign up at mygateway.dmu.ac.uk/Form.aspx?id=1238487.

For more information, contact Mark at: mcharlton@dmu.ac.uk or Harriet Pole, widening participation co-ordinator, at harriet.pole@dmu.ac.uk.

Slums life shocks Leicester volunteer on teaching trip to India’s Punjab region

By Alice Warner

Jonathan Briars, 23, from Leicester, recently embarked on a life-changing volunteering trip to the Punjab region of India to teach children maths and English.

He said: “The facilities aren’t for the faint-hearted.

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Jonathan Briars with children from the school where he was volunteering

“The main shock is seeing the slum area that is a 15-minute walk away from the school where a lot of the kids lived when they were younger.

“The houses are effectively make-shift tents with very little shelter and there were a few nights where it rained a lot, but they got on with everything regardless.”

India is one of the countries that has large numbers in poverty and is always in need of aid.

However, Jonathan volunteered with Morning Star Ministries, which is one of the many churches and lesser known charity organisations doing great work to help people living in poor conditions.

Morning Star helps put vital and timely materials in the hands of those who need it most.

Jonathan added: “The kids are great. They’re all unique, so kind and generous even though they have such little resources compared to us in England. Some of them have even previously had life-threatening illnesses and are now completely healed and well.

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Jonathan Briars with one of his classes

“I can’t think of any kids that I didn’t strike up some sort of bond with in the three weeks that I was there.”

Jonathan’s main role was teaching and looking after the children including playing sports after school.

The older students also have examinations in March, so he was helping them with maths and English revision.

He also had day trips out to nearby towns and cities as well so he managed to see a few local sights.

Jonathan’s help was welcomed with open arms however there are many people around the globe who need help and support from small charities and churches just like this one.

 

 

Students enjoy the snow as Leicester University teachers strike

By Alex Leadbitter

Students in Leicester were able to enjoy the snow as their university teachers continued to strike.

Teachers from over 50 universities all around the UK took strike action because of a dispute over pensions.

With classes not in session, and Britain under a blanket of snow, students searched for the biggest hills they could find to take advantage of their time off university and to let off some steam.

Leicester University students brought out their sledges to make the most of the recent snowfall as their classes were not being taught.

Marion Ratier, Archaeology student at Leicester University,  said: “It’s really annoying that we don’t have classes because we’ve got exams coming up and it’s a very important time for students.

“But we thought that we can’t do anything about it now so we may as well have a little bit of fun in the snow and enjoy ourselves with the time we have off.”

University lecturers from Leicester, Oxford, Cambridge and many more walked out in protest of what they feel are unfair pension changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

It is claimed this will leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

Lecturers at the University of Leicester have been on strike for two weeks, and a recent announcement from the university indicates that they will continue to strike for a further two weeks, leaving students without classes leading into the Easter holiday.

These strikes have received a backlash from students at about 30 universities who have signed petitions asking for refunds.