- Daniel Sillet
Three strikes and we’re out
By DANIEL SILLET
Let’s cut to the chase on this one. The University and College Union (UCU) has announced 18 days of strike action between February and March.
That is sacrificing nearly THREE WEEKS of your university education. To be crystal clear: this disruption is costing you about £1,500 in lost education.
But it isn’t just the monetary cost. What about the emotional, psychological and sociological costs? How is it fair to put students under even greater stress? Haven’t we already had enough uncertainty with the Covid-19 pandemic?
What’s more, they are even discussing an additional boycott of marking assessments. That is the final straw. If you won’t teach us, at least mark our work; how else can we be expected to get first-class degrees and bump you up the university league tables?
We deserve much better than this.
To briefly touch on Covid, we had to endure an entire year of farcical tutoring. YouTube videos suddenly counted as lectures. Seminars became nothing more than staring at a Microsoft Teams meeting – with endless connectivity issues and shouts of “you’re muted” echoing in our ears.
That year of online teaching was the same as a lifeboat abandoning its passengers in the middle of a deep, dark, stormy sea.
I accept that this was the same for everybody. Covid was nobody’s choice and nobody’s fault, so we have to give universities some slack. But you would have thought we could at least have a small refund of understanding compensation from these multi-million-pound institutions. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask for?
Fast forward to the present.
These strikes are a choice. Whether by the participating university staff or, more convincingly, by the universities themselves for failing to remedy exploitative contracts, people out there are choosing for these strikes to happen.
In other words, they are choosing to disadvantage us as students.
A crucial subsidiary point is that we are not disadvantaged equally. Chances are that you’re doing a politics-related degree. Last time strikes happened, most of the maths and science professors carried on – whereas you could bet your bottom dollar the politics lot would be on that picket line.
You and I are at a greater disadvantage because of the subject we have chosen to love. And I don’t think that’s fair, especially because ‘equality’ is a bigger buzzword at universities than ‘profit’ or ‘money’.
I should make it very clear at this point that, for once, the Tory government can have some respite. Because, unlike the NHS saga, this is not the government’s responsibility. It is the private, asset-rich universities who need to act. If we are paying £9,250 per year – for international students, multiply that figure by at least two – surely universities have some pennies rolling around in the coffers to cough up a fair deal.
But if they don’t want to pay their staff fairly, therefore allowing the strikes to proceed, how about they give us a refund instead?
There are Warwick-specific FAQs on this topic. Yet the refund FAQ claims that they expect ‘the necessary material’ to still be delivered. That is a polite, roundabout way of saying ‘no, you shall not get a refund, you pesky bunch’.
If universities aren’t going to refund their students or negotiate properly with their staff, they have a big problem. Because that means that no single party – except those in the ivory towers – is happy in a university institution.
You may be thinking, well, I’ve had just about enough of this, so how about we students have a strike as well. Luckily, the FAQs provide an answer. They say that you should attend lectures and seminars as normal, or else you will be marked absent.
If staff aren’t worried about losing their jobs, why should we be worried about a puny absence? What about all the absences we will accumulate when the strikes happen? No doubt they will be put down to ‘extenuating circumstances’ or ‘unfortunate events’, and so won’t be a problem.
I have said this many times before, but I will say it again because clearly it is not getting through. This is a private institution that we are paying for. If Tesco workers went on strike, which involved violent action in destroying all the food you’ve just bought, would you expect a refund? I think so. If railway workers go on strike, can you get a delay-repay refund? Yes, you can.
On this background, universities providing no compensation whatsoever for strike action is daylight robbery of vulnerable students who are already being exploited by sky-high tuition fees.
In legalese, failure to provide adequate education breaches the contractual promises made by universities to students. That has already been done once with Covid, but we let that slide because they were unprecedented times. How much of a naïve pushover do universities think we all are to fall for that trick again?
The short answer is this: we won’t. Pay up your staff before you lose them. Or, if you don’t want to do that, pay up your students – or else you will lose them as well. And then you have nothing.
This is round two of strike action. It’s killing us as students. We are already crumbling under the pressure of the cost of living crisis, and now this.
So, fellow students, here’s what I say: three strikes and we’re out.
Image: Flickr/ Steven Brandis