If you’re reading this, you’re probably a student. You might not be. But I’m guessing you are. How do you feel about the industrial action in March, undertaken by the University and College Union members, or the men and women you have entrusted your education with? Perhaps you support the strike. Me? Not really. Sound vague? I’ll explain.
When I was first informed about the predicament faced by my lecturers, I immediately felt empathetic to their cause. Without needing much economic grounding, or contextual awareness, I expect most can understand the deep impact of one losing up to £10,000 per year of pension contributions. It’s a life changing sum. It is for this reason, that I can respect my lecturers’ vehement opposition to the proposed changes. To put it into perspective, in the past two years, the income of British universities from tuition fees alone has increased by 14.2%, while expenses on staff-related costs rose by just 3.6%. Herein, lies a problem. Somewhere along the line however, the prospect of retired academic’s pensions equating to less than the living wage, should surely be alleviated.
My issue is that nobody ever tried to bring me, or my peers onside.
However, there is a key factor holding me back from fully supporting this cause. This qualm is probably best summed up by the quote ‘it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it’. Over the course of this industrial action period, the mantra of ‘it’s a last resort’ has dominated discourse, maintained unwaveringly by striking academics. I’m a student. I don’t live under a rock. I call bullshit. I’m very much aware of the strike. I just missed the first, second and third resort prior to this? Maybe because there wasn’t really one? If you’re shaking your head at this point, thinking ‘What a thing to say!’, I’ll posit the question to you. What was plan A or B, before withholding our education? Student or not, I’d hazard a guess that you don’t know either. It probably did happen, but in circles and offices far above our level, and that in itself is a problem.
Want to gain traction for a cause? Get as many people onside as possible? That seems fairly logical. My university has around 20,000 students. Some participating universities have much more than that. My issue is that nobody ever tried to bring me, or my peers onside. Should one of my lecturers, many of whom, might I add, I have immense respect and admiration for, approached me prior to undertaking industrial action, and asked me to come out in public support of their cause, lest they turn to industrial action as a genuine last resort, I almost certainly would have done so. In fact, I think many students would have done so too, fuelled by the altruism of understanding their lecturers’ predicament, or almost certainly the selfish desire not to lose weeks of teaching. Thus far, limited compromise from universities has been achieved, and strikes are expected to continue. In other words, current action undertaken has largely failed. On the flip side, would a university respond if thousands of students, all of whom, incidentally, have extensive consumer rights, and fund the very university they are part of, publicly demonstrated in support of their lecturers? Surely yes. That’s why from my position, I find it hard to support a group of striking academics, who have withheld my education, without exhausting the blatantly obvious route to genuinely advance their cause. It is students that are the fabric of the universities they make up, and this time, we’ve been hung out to dry.