Students argue for and against university strikes

As staff at more than 60 universities kick off a wave of strike action over proposed changes to pensions, one student fears her education could be compromised and another says students should stand in solidarity with lecturers.

Georgia Davies, 21, who studies English and modern history at the University of St Andrews calls for students to be compensated.

This week, strikes will begin at universities across the UK, affecting thousands of students and reducing their contact time and access to university facilities.

My opposition is in the way that university students – time and time again – are being cheated by a system which is systematically unfair.

For the 12 hours a week of contact time I receive, I pay a total of £9,250 a year – not including the exorbitant living costs, extra materials and travel to and from my home.

The limited library resources, space and even assistance from admin staff means that value for money is poor at best, horrendous at worse.

With the strikes, I will miss out on key learning; putting the nail in the coffin for this education being value for money, or even worth the price tag.

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Now students are facing a situation which means they will miss out on over half of their contact time. I am personally missing six tutorials, six key hours which are essential to my essays, exams and general understanding of the subject.

To divide my (minimum) of six hours of contact time missed – discounting any potential library visits – I will lose out on £200 worth of contact hours (at £32 an hour, worked out by dividing £9,250 by time spent at university premises, with some lee-way for admin costs and use of office hours).

Ultimately, compensation would be ideal. It would be the only fair solution to the issue of missed contact time, exorbitant debt and poor value for money that the university experience offers to an arts student.

However, it is important to note that this should not be a fight between students and lecturers. It is the lecturers themselves who, at my university, have encouraged students to seek compensation.

They have supported many students in their mission to get value for money from the universities. Like students, the lecturers are being presented with a situation which is unfair and fraudulent.

We have both been slapped with “terms and conditions” that were not made clear – and indeed have changed – when we first applied to be at this university.

The ultimate answer, to us, is clear: Work to negotiate a solution with the lecturers and stop taking advantage of students because you think they can’t fight back.

Staff at more than 60 universities are set to go on strike
Staff at more than 60 universities are set to go on strike

Amelia Horgan, 25, a philosophy PhD candidate at the University of Essex and a postgraduate representative on the National Union of Students’ National Executive Council, says students should stand in solidarity with their lecturers.

Academic staff across more than 60 universities are going on strike to resist devastating changes to their pensions. It’s the longest industrial action in the University and College Union’s (UCU) history and it’s vital that we stand in solidarity with them.

As workers they deserve decent pensions and working conditions and any attack on those conditions is also an attack on the quality of education that students receive.

The proposed changes to pensions are deeply unjust. If they go ahead, lecturers will lose up to £200,000 each with early career staff the most affected. While missing out on classes isn’t the situation that students would prefer, the disruption caused by the strike is nothing compared to the damage caused by years of cuts and increased fees.

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Education should be free – it is a public good that should be accessible to all. We can’t fight for free education without also demanding that the rights of education workers are respected.

Students angry about hugely expensive fees and exploitative rents are part of the same fight as striking lecturers, and we must show support for our lecturers against the Government and Universities UK who would much rather see us divided.

It is clear that the current funding model for universities is unsustainable, only free education paid for through progressive taxation can deliver the sustainable and long-term funding the sector desperately needs.

The NUS postgraduate campaign is asking students to conform to that tired stereotype and stay in bed in front of Netflix on strike days, or better still, join picket lines, showing solidarity with lecturers who are resisting the same forces of neoliberalisation that raised student fees.