University Students Pay the Price of Strikes

One of our writers discusses the resurgence of UCU strikes and the implications they could have on students.

Alex Rimmer
23rd November 2021
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Showing the UCU strikes from last year
Just as students begin to receive limited in-person teaching once more in the form of a hybrid ‘blended learning’ system, the UCU’s call for action may mean that these face-to-face academic interactions are to be short lived. The University and College Union have once again called for nation-wide strikes, and recent votes have revealed that fifty-eight institutions, including Newcastle University, are willing to participate.

The motivation behind this call to action is what the UCU have labelled the ‘four fights’; equality, workload, casualisation and pay levels. It is these four principles that warranted the strikes of 2019 and 2020. As teaching has begun to resume, so has the UCU’s determination to change working conditions for university staff in these specific areas.

Strikes appear to be imminent; on their website the UCU reports to have written a letter to university bosses “outlining what university vice chancellors have to do to avoid industrial action before Christmas, escalating into spring and beyond.” When looking at the history of strained relations between the union and University employers, it seems unlikely that bosses will be able to satisfy the union to the point where action will be called off entirely in the short time frame outlined. Futhermore, the financial strain placed on university’s from decreased international student fees due to the Covid-19 pandemic makes strikes seem inevitable at this stage.

It is clear that working conditions of university staff are unjust and need to be addressed.

It is clear that working conditions of university staff are unjust and need to be addressed and adjusted for example, the current gender, racial and disability pay gaps. However, it is students who repeatedly pay the price for strike action. Current third year students faced strikes in November, December, February and March of their first academic year, with the strikes ending due to the onset of the pandemic. They then faced the trials of online learning in the interim, and just as they have been welcomed back onto campus, it seems they must soon leave once again. Whichever stage of learning a student is currently in, the looming strikes are very frustrating. Many feel they are navigating University in a solitary fashion whilst paying huge sums of money and accumulating debt. Aside from the monetary and academic pitfalls of the strike, the all too familiar isolation factor that students had to struggle with during the pandemic re-surfaces once more. Students will not be on campus and will be carrying out their work alone, often without even minimal e-mail support from lecturers participating in the strikes.

Students hold out hope that the UCU and employers will be able to achieve successful negotiations and some form of consolidation in their fraudulent relationship- and quickly. This is not solely because they want their staff to have appropriate and justified working conditions, but also so they won’t have to repeatedly and infuriatingly be left to their own devices. Feeling alone and perhaps even scammed whilst trying to complete their degree, as this is not what they signed up for.

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