Students and the strikes: against the action

Ella Bending expresses her disappointment regarding the UCU strikes and the negative impact on students.

Ella Bending
20th November 2019
Image: Nick Efford
It’s official, our lecturers, along with 60 other universities across the UK will be going on strike on the 25th of this month and like last year it will be us, the students, who face the consequences of the gross mismanagement over our lecturers’ pensions.

Many students will be angry and rightfully so; lectures, seminars and dissertation meetings will inevitably be disrupted as a result of strike action despite £9250 still leaving our pockets this year. But to be perfectly clear, we must make sure our frustrations are targeted correctly. It is not the lecturers who are to blame, but the university management and greedy vice-chancellors who year on year ensure their own pay check rises, whilst repeatedly seeing cuts to that of our lecturers. There has been an 18% cut in lecturers’ real wages in the last decade alone and now they see an extra £10,000 per annum decrease in pension provisions, according to the University and College Union (UCU). No wonder tensions are high

The result of the strikes in 2018 was a deal struck between the university and lecturers. This deal made changes to the ‘University Superannuation Scheme’ (USS), allowing a fair rate of pensions to be set. Recently, however, the university made a complete U-turn by scrunching up this agreement and yeeting it into the closest recycling bin. This brings us right back to stage one of negotiations, where lecturers are once again undervalued, victimised and their voices are unheard.

Our beloved lecturers are being held at ransom with their hands tied behind their backs. Of course they do not want to harm our studies, but collective strike action has proven to be the only way to make an impact in the past. It is far from an ideal situation, but only when the university executives’ bottom line is affected, do they take notice.

Furthermore, the precedent that public pension schemes can be subjected to manipulation by their board of directors is highly disturbing for anyone who is currently, or intends on being, the beneficiary of such schemes in the future. If this widespread strike action proves to be unsuccessful it will not just be our university that feels the damage, but the door will then be swung wide-open for every institution of employment to be subjected to a series of attacks on pensions. We must back our lecturers through this tough period, make sure they hear our support and are not defeated in this battle of administrative avarice versus sensibility.

I was a Fresher in 2017 and remember the chaos of those strikes palpably. Days and days of cancelled lectures and of uncertainty as time kept ticking on. “Thank god I’m not in third year”, I remember announcing arrogantly. Shouldn’t have spoken so soon it turned out, as we were in the same position last year. Third time lucky? Of course not, third year is upon me and we are here again. Sigh.  

Now, don’t get me wrong. The role of Unions in ensuring good working conditions is nothing to scorn. What I am struggling with, however, is the tangible loss these missed hours will have on our degrees, on my degree. Because, at the end of the day, who will really get burned when lecturers go on strike from the 25th of November until the 4th of December? We know the answer to this already.

Many students will be carrying the debts of these lost lectures for most of our lives. Monetary debts, certainly, but also debts to our degrees, as this loss of contact with our lecturers could mean for some the difference between a 2:2 and a 2:1, or even a 2:1 and a First. I saw a tweet when I was reading up about the upcoming strikes which said it all to me, really. A student wrote how they felt like they wanted to join their lecturers in the strike but simply couldn’t because they are in third year and can’t miss any time. For the most part, we, the students, cannot afford to miss any time of our valuable and fleeting (and expensive) education. Once again, I understand how vitally important good pay, a solid contract and a fair pension is. But why does it have to infringe on my education? This strike action will affect more than one million students ( One million students who have had absolutely no say in the decision to forfeit their vital education are being abandoned by the wayside for the third time in my three years at University.

You’re making us look like fools, University and College Union.

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