POLITICIANS from all parties except the Tories joined demonstrators at a "Rally for Education" held outside the Scottish Parliament in support of strike action by the University and College Union (UCU).

The rally, jointly held by the UCU and the National Union of Students Scotland, follows Monday’s announcement that staff at three more Scottish universities will strike over pay and pensions, bringing the number of institutions affected to 11.

The union is asking for a £2.5k pay rise for all university employees, arguing that staff pay has fallen by more than a quarter in real terms since 2009. However, this has been dismissed by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) as “unrealistic”.

NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly told the assembled demonstrators: “We are here because students and staff in Scotland are being let down by the same failing education system.”

The National:

Crilly cited new research published this week by the NUS Scotland, which showed that 12% of students in Scotland had experienced homelessness since beginning their studies, 35% had considered dropping of their courses due to financial difficulties, and that 25 per cent had been unable to pay their rent in full on one or more occasion.

“We know that staff’s working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” Crilley said.

UCU Scotland president Lena Wanggren, a tutor at the University of Edinburgh, also said: “We have people leaving the sector because we are falling ill – because we cannot afford to keep being on these horrible, precarious contracts. The people who are leaving – because they are facing the burden more than others – are people of colour, women, and disabled people.

“We are on strike against huge pensions cuts that are not necessary, but we are also on strike against pay inequality and discrimination.”

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Michael Marra MSP described the demonstration as “the biggest rally we’ve had outside this parliament since the election last year.”

Marra told the rally: “You have the full solidarity and support of the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish labour movement.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie commented: “The university sector is not getting funded sufficiently. We need to stand for decent pensions, but we also need to stand against short term contracts.

“You have got one of the best sectors in the whole world. It’s about time this government and university bosses respected that and funded that to make the difference.”

SNP MSP and deputy convener of Holyrood’s education committee Kaukab Stewart confirmed that education minister Jamie Hepburn had met with the UCU and Universities Scotland to “encourage everyone to continue with the current negotiations in an attempt to resolve this situation.”

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Stewart added that over this parliamentary session, she would be supporting the SNP-Green government in bringing the total student support package to the equivalent of the Living Wage over the next three years.

Green MSP and former University of Aberdeen rector Maggie Chapman also said: “We have been fighting this fight for far too long. We may have won some battles over the years, but we should not have to be here fighting the same fight.

“We’ve already seen cases of universities threatening and criticising their workers for taking action. But they forget, in reality, who really has the power – you the workers, you the students.”

STUC president Roz Foyer said: “I’m sick of hearing about how we’re building a more inclusive economy, because that isn’t the truth – the truth is we’re going backwards. Living standards for working people are falling in Scotland, while the rich continue to get richer.”