The upcoming lecturer strikes are a hard to pass an opinion on.
On the one hand, as a strident lefty, I believe in pension rights and protection. Pay inequalities within higher education are the regrettable remnants of an outdated institutional structure. Protests are democratic and can be used to correct such inequalities. Yet, on the other, more pragmatic and – yes, admittedly – selfish hand, I am paying £9,000 a year for an education that is being sacrificed by those who should be dispensing it. And all for no fault of my own.
Yes, the scheduled cuts to lecturers’ pensions – which could amount to nearly £200,000 per person – are huge and disgusting. To jeopardise the future stability of workers, that was continuously promised, is awful. The clear hierarchy within higher education makes it even more laughably cruel. Whilst lecturers are losing such a huge amount, university directors are receiving a dizzying array of pay rises, bonuses, and perks.
Edinburgh’s own Principal, Peter Mathieson, is scheduled to get a 33% pay rise this year, whilst already enjoying perks such as a free five-bedroom townhouse in the town centre. The reason why the lecturers are striking is clear. The inequality behind it is archaic, and should be protested.
Yet I know I am not alone in asking ‘why us?’. Whilst students have done and can do nothing to change the situation, we are the ones who will suffer from the strikes disproportionally. Currently, strikes are promised for 14 days from late February to early March across many disciplines within over 60 UK universities. With the NUS supporting the strikes, they are near unavoidable – all students will be impacted.
Protests like these may help cure some effects of the outdated structure but a true revision is needed, one that can only be enacted through elections.
In light of the cuts, it may seem selfish to complain of the impact of the strikes. It is, after all, the last resort the lecturers can take after talks have been unfruitful. Many lecturers seem genuinely upset at the impact that the strikes may have upon their students.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I – like thousands of other students – am paying over £9,000 a year for an education that isn’t guaranteed and that can be used as a bargaining chip. True, the only way to enact change is to cause disruption, but this ‘disruption’ comes at the possibility of me squandering that amount of money just to fail because I haven’t been taught.
Many students are demanding reimbursement for their student fees to cover the lecture time lost by the protests. Some point to this optimistically, as a win-win for students and lecturers alike. Students get reimbursed, whilst their calls for compensation further badger the educational authorities until they have to cease cuts due to general disruption.
However, this is too naive. Students are unlikely to win at all from these strikes. Calls for reimbursement are already proving unfruitful as they are being dismissed. Authorities, arguing that tuition fees cover a range of resources such as libraries that are not being affected by the strikes, are denying any claims for compensation.
Students, in all eventualities, are going to lose out from these strikes. Of course, there are many who are celebrating. It is, with a glass-half full perspective, a surprise holiday. Yet this doesn’t change the fact that we are shackled to a debt that is not providing the education it promises.
It is not the lecturers to blame. They have been pushed to drastic action and, despite the impact this will have, are justified in taking it. It should be remembered that the same structure that is threatening the lecturers’ pension provisions is the one that requires students to accumulate thousands in debt whilst offering no true supervision over their education.
We students may have no voice or real option in this protest. If we protest by asking for reimbursement, we inadvertently support the strikers and will inevitably be unsuccessful anyway. If we stay quiet, we are in the same position.
All we can do is make sure we use our voice when we can. Elections will see the legacy of these protests. Structural change is required. Protests like these may help cure some effects of the outdated structure but a true revision is needed, one that can only be enacted through elections.
With luck, such changes will benefit the lecturers as well as the students, finally.