Newcastle University is one of the seventy-four UK universities to be hit with 14 days of strike action across February and March. The second set of strikes of the academic year is set to be controversial, as many students struggle between giving their support to their lecturers’ cause and their frustration of not receiving the service they pay for.
There has certainly been an active student response to the strikes. A change.org petition set up by Newcastle University student Emily Johnson which calls for compensation for missed teaching has reached a hefty 2500 signatures as of the 16th February. Students frustrations are warranted. UK/ EU student’s pay £9000 or £9250 a year for their education, with international students often paying double the price. With Universities nowadays being ran increasingly like a business, if you pay for a product you expect to receive it. Statistics have been floating around social media over how much students should be refunded for missed teaching days, with estimates laying between £800-900.
With Universities being ran like a business, if you pay for a product you expect to receive it
I, alike others, struggled at first with shouting for my refund. Whilst I believed that I should be refunded as I’m missing essential contact hours, I sympathised with my lecturers and worried that I may undermine their plight. I was shocked by how insecure their contracts were, the amount of hours they worked without pay to fulfil all their duties and the cuts to their pensions, and worried that petitioning for a refund may distract from this main focus. Yet now, on evaluation, I realised that students petitioning for a refund actually does act as another form of pressure for change. If we direct our grievances towards the University and ask the important question of, ‘Where’s our money going?’, we can both show solidarity to our lecturers and show our anger at the effects of the strikes on us.
Thousands of students will lose days of teaching and will suffer increased stress and disruption. For third years, the strike effects them in the crucial time of writing their dissertation. Perhaps most important to consider is how many students worry about their excessive student debt and its effect on their future, and how when we are not receiving what we pay for, it increases these anxieties. Although many like myself would prefer not monetary compensation but a return of teaching, we should petition for a refund in hope of a change for the future.
Since Newcastle University has shamefully failed to offer concrete solutions in favour of vague promises, as students we are forced to petition to make our needs heard.
The focus of the petition should not be only on refunds: it should request a clear plan of action for accommodations for those whose learning was affected by the strikes. In fact, especially for third year students, whose future depends on the exams, a simple repayment does not fix the impact the missed contact hours have on the education.
Although other universities have offered compensation to the students, these are not necessarily examples that should be followed. The mere sum of £100 offered to Sussex students is unacceptable. This is not only because it was clearly less than the students were entitled to, but also because they had to demonstrate having suffered because of the strikes, which is absurd. This move was clearly aimed at avoiding legal action, rather than looking out for the students. In fact, regardless of whether they were materially affected or not, the students are not getting a service they are paying for. This alone makes us entitled to compensation.
But simply paying back is not enough: no one should feel like their education is up for bargain. People choose to go to university to improve themselves: to take away from this process is not acceptable. In fact, the university has a duty to ensure the learning environment for the students is as its highest potential. This is clearly not the case when the staff is forced to strike due to pay inequality, job insecurity, rising workloads and pay devaluation.
No one should feel like their education is up for bargain
We shouldn’t have to petition to make our complains heard. Every university student has enough on their plate without having to worry that their education is being threatened. However, because the University has consistently ignored this fact, we find ourselves in a position where petitioning might be the only way to voice our concerns. In doing this, it should be emphasized that petitioning for refunds does not take away from the support for the lecturers. How can we claim we are getting a world-class education, when our lecturers are not working in optimal conditions? However, it does mean looking out for those whose future is unwillingly being affected by the strikes.
Given how much we all pay for our education, having to petition to have our and the staff’s needs heard is an absurd condition to be in. Yet given that so far we’ve only received empty promises, the more pressure is put on the University, the better.
Featured Image: Joe Molander and Daniella Dakin
Last modified: 27th February 2020