UPDATE: Postponement of BCLA Postgraduate Conference, St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, 29 November 2019

Statement from the organisers concerning the postponement of the BCLA Postgraduate Conference “Radical Retellings: Fairy Tales, Myth and Beyond”, St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, 29 November 2019

Given the likelihood of industrial action later this month, we are deeply sorry to announce that the upcoming BCLA 2019 Postgraduate Conference will no longer take place on Friday 29th November 2019 and will instead be postponed until a yet-to-be-confirmed date early in the new year. This was a very difficult decision for us to make as BCLA conference organizers and postgraduate representatives, not least because a great deal of work has already gone into the preparation for the event, but we cannot in good conscience proceed given the current circumstances and we are writing to you to explain why.

While not all organizers, participants, and attendees of the BCLA postgraduate conference may be members of UCU, we as postgraduate representatives are supportive of those taking a stand in the potential upcoming strikes against the casualisation of work contracts and the attacks on pension rights, which for most early career researchers and postgraduate students in the UK come on top of enormous student debt. Although the BCLA’s postgraduate conference is not strictly speaking a university-organised event, it may still impact various REF submissions and benefit employers and, given that many postgraduates also teach at their universities, we do not wish to force any participants and attendees who may support industrial action to be obliged to find cover for their teaching or to risk a form of strike-breaking in which they may not wish to engage. Finally, although there is still the chance that negotiations will prevent strikes from occurring – as we sincerely hope will be the case – we felt it would not be prudent to wait and see what happens, but to proactively make a decision and take a firm position before it is too late.

We are certain that you as attendees and participants will be just as disappointed and frustrated as we are as organizers of the conference and as postgraduate representatives of the BCLA. We are saddened and angry at this turn of events; we ask for your understanding and your patience in this matter; and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. Nevertheless, we would please ask that any feelings of disappointment or frustration regarding this difficult decision not be directed towards the BCLA nor towards any of its members, but rather towards universities and USS for their ongoing refusal to value academic work and honour pensions agreements, while continuing the casualisation and overloading of the Higher Education sector, and ultimately forcing strike action to be taken.

Strikes such as these throw up many dilemmas like the one we have found ourselves in this week, particularly since we as academics do tend to feel that we do our research for ourselves and each other rather than for our managers or institutions. But strikes are supposed to cause inconvenience – indeed, that is how they have their impact – and we feel it is neither right nor appropriate to go ahead with the conference as planned when industrial action is potentially taking place.

In solidarity,

The BCLA Postgraduate Representatives