Think of the students: a response to the university strikes

Eva offers a student’s perspective on the UCU strike, expressing her support for her lecturers but simultaneously lamenting the impact of the action on her education.

Last week saw the beginning of the UCU strike, which saw lecturers head for the picket line and lecture halls left empty. As a result, students are set to lose out on valuable teaching time and have their education compromised. With considerable cuts to lecturers’ pensions, it isn’t hard to see why they are in a difficult predicament. In my opinion however, so are students. Let’s face it, students are the ones paying ridiculous amounts of money in exchange for an education. Or in current strike climate, a self-taught education.

Before I criticise the strike, let me say that I have a lot of respect for my lecturers. Their academic prowess and dedication to their respective fields are qualities that I am truly inspired by. I do sympathise with employees in this situation; everybody has the right to a secure, well-earned retirement. My frustration does not lie with the academic staff who are striking, and I fully support them in challenging an unfair system.

After all, the changes to pensions could, according to some estimations, cause some lecturers to be £10,000 worse off per year in retirement benefits. I’m sure that I would feel angry and betrayed too, if my pension was set to be changed so that it was at risk of fluxations of the stiock market. I’m sure we can all agree that the pension cuts are fundamentally wrong and undermine lecturers’ hard work.

Having said all this, I do not support the weaponisation of students, who are effectively having their education used as a bartering chip. Whilst we’re supporting our lecturers, as students, who is standing up for our rights?
I know that striking is always a last resort and that lecturers hate cancelling their classes. But this reluctance doesn’t equate to valuable teaching hours.

We’re not just talking about a 24 hour strike at a single university. The UCU estimates that one million students across 65 UK universities will be affected by the strike action, losing approximately 575,000 teaching hours. Plus, the action is set to last for 14 days over four weeks. That’s surely enough disruption to our education, right? Wrong. If agreements are not reached, there is the threat that final year exams and graduation ceremonies could be targeted. So don’t be too hasty putting on your gown and mortarboard.

I make a significant amount of sacrifices to study at university. Not only am I paying £9,000 a year to pursue my passion, and getting myself into a considerable amount of debt at a young age, but studying away from home at a top university involves personal and social sacrifices too. Without the financial help of my family and tutoring in my limited spare time, I would not be able to afford higher education.

So it is frustrating when in the final year of an education that I have fully dedicated myself to, my grades are being jeopardised and my future career put at risk. I don’t burden myself with enormous amounts of debt to then be forced to teach myself modules of work. During this strike action, I’ll be missing out on valuable contact hours, which, as an English student, are hard to come by anyway, meaning that I’ll effectively be paying for a glorified library membership.

Not just this, but it is unacceptable when some tutors, deciding to strike at the last minute, only notify their students shortly before their seminar. Some students commute and spend a considerate amount of time and money to come into university, just to be turned away.

Before I’m accused of endorsing pension cuts, raising concerns about the strike does not mean that I’m opposing my lecturers. It simply means that I am asking legitimate questions about the effect of the strike on my education.
It is with the university bosses and the people at the negotiating table with whom my dissatisfaction lies. This situation is becoming highly detrimental to students’ education and it is due to the employers’ reluctance to negotiate. This is the second strike at my university this academic year. Students are understandably becoming agitated with the hours of teaching that they are being deprived of. I feel that universities seem to be exploiting this anger as a means of creating division between the lecturers and their students.

I do support my lecturers in their fight for a fair pension. However, I feel deprived of an education that I am paying extortionate fees for. When careers are on the line, and debt is piling up, people need to pay more attention to the students’ concerns.

A University Spokesperson said:
“The pension scheme’s multi-billion pound deficit needs to be tackled so that we can provide all staff with a scheme which is sustainable, stable and fair – particularly to younger colleagues who would suffer the consequences of short-term fixes. The University’s standard contribution of 18% of salary to the scheme will continue under the proposed reforms, but we could not support directing more money away from our core academic activity – including teaching – into staff pensions. Five members each of UCU and UUK have been at the negotiating table for more than 30 meetings on this issue. The University has not been directly involved in those discussions and we are encouraging staff to take part in the official consultation that starts this month.”

Eva Curless

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