Open Day Protest: Student Union takes direct action against teaching hour extension

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University House
Photograph: Mae Reddaway

This Saturday the 15th of September during the next University Open Day, the Union’s Full-Time-Officers (FTOs) will be peacefully protesting against the extension of Lancaster’s teaching hours from 6 pm to 7 pm.

At the end of July, the University Management announced a proposal to extend the teaching hours to 7 pm from the beginning of the next academic year. When drafting such plans, however, the University failed to consult the student body.

Soon after, the FTOs met with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor to highlight problems and voice concerns. However, the meeting appears to have been a disappointment and the Officers left the room feeling that “although everyone accepts extending the teaching day is going to be bad for students and bad for lecturers, it’s happening and we’re just doing to have to get over it.”

The planned timetables for the academic year have recently been published and, although still subject to changes, they currently show that around fourteen departments and over 2000 students will be impacted if things remain as they are.

The FTOs have, consequently, decided to take direct action and protest during the next University Open Day. On the matter, the SU President Rhiannon Jones said: “If we want bold changes at times we need bold actions. If the University does not listen to the concerns of the students, sometimes you have to force them to listen. Especially when things that matter are at stake.”

Extending teaching hours until 7 pm – 9 pm in some cases – has the potential to negatively impact on participation in extra-curricular activities and students’ wellbeing. One student said, “participating in extra-curricular activities is what made my experience at Lancaster unique”. Another encouraged prioritising “the needs of current students instead of focusing on always getting more”.

The upcoming protest has been supported by many students and the efforts of the FTOs to ensure that student voices are heard have been widely appreciated. However, concerns on whether this is going to impact Open Day have been advanced.

One student said “for the university to grow and improve ultimately it needs money, which comes from students, it’s a tiny minority that ends up affected by the timetable extension but if this protest puts people off applying how would the university develop? That would only result in further disruption of the same kind. I personally think the students Union should pick their battles and not have impacts on the hard work of other people who also care about the growth of the uni.”

As a response, President Rhiannon said that the protests will be peaceful and will also be a way to raise awareness of the current situation as “prospective students have a right to know that they may need to be in lectures until 7 pm as this may influence their decision on which University they attend, especially if extracurricular activity plays a role in their decision making.”

Further posts encouraging the FTOs to refrain from protesting on the upcoming Open Day, however, keep being shared on the Facebook Page ‘Overheard at Lancaster’. One student argued that the Union has a duty towards all members at Lancaster and that “By jeopardising the recruitment process (which they have made clear is their intention) Lancaster’s reputation deteriorates.” Consequently, students’ employability depends on the University’s reputation, protesting on Saturday has the potential to put students in a dangerous position.

A recent Facebook poll that asked students for their opinions on the protest currently shows: ‘157 students pro-refraining from the protest and 117 pro-protesting’. Varied responses can be found under the post; on the one hand, a student said: “I think it just adds another negative stereotype to Students, especially by protesting in this manner on an open day”. On the other hand, a more supportive position has been taken: “I’m glad that the SU is doing something to further the interests of students. If the University has made poor management decisions, then we should not have to suffer the consequences when they continue to further compound their error by continuing to accept more students than they can educate effectively, and when there are other options.”

Details on where and when the protest will take place are yet to be made public. Meanwhile, the Students’ Union is collecting the details of people interested in joining the protest via an online sign-up form; this can be found on their website and social media platforms.

More information to follow.