This week, staff in 60 universities across the UK will take part in a strike led by the University and College Union (UCU). Their choice to strike has the full support of the National Union of Students (NUS) – but not all students have come out in favour of the action.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard many fellow students criticise the decision of lecturers to go on strike. Within a few hours after the industrial action was announced, a petition was launched calling for lost contact hours to be reimbursed.
Many are worried that the eight-day period may impact their end of term grades. They reason that they’re paying tuition fees, so they should expect a full term of teaching.
Of course, losing valuable time is frustrating for the one million students who could be affected. But the frustration is mutual among staff and students. Both feel that universities are being turned into businesses that are impersonal and poorly run. We should not direct our anger towards lecturers, but rather to the institutions forcing them to strike.
It’s not as if our tuition fees all go to our tutors. Academics’ pay has fallen by 17% in real terms since 2009. More than half are estimated to be on temporary contracts, and this precariousness only adds to the daily stress of teaching. A recent report found an “epidemic” of poor mental health among higher education staff. Meanwhile, the UCU reports a 15% gender pay gap, and pensions have also shrunk after changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
With our tutors working in these conditions, how can students expect to get the best out of them? As NUS vice president Claire Sosienski-Smith put it: “Students won’t be happy about having to miss lectures, but they’re not happy about studying in institutions where their staff are underpaid and overworked.”
It isn’t really true that this strike will damage our university careers. Some lecturers are ensuring their students won’t be completely abandoned, and many are leaving pre-prepared work and practical tips on how to make the most of this “lost” time. Lecturers care deeply about the academic success of their students. Why else would they do such a thankless job?
This strike will have a greater impact if universities see that the lecturers have the full support of their students and understand that changes must be made. We have a part to play in these strikes, to keep the pressure up to ensure fairer working conditions. I know I’m going to be asking my vice-chancellor what they’re doing to fix the problem.
• Joshua Curiel is a 19-year-old student at the University of Kent