As another AUT strike sweeps across campus like a cloud of malevolent tweed, I’m sitting smugly in the Hallward Library. Nice try, lecturers, but no cigar. You see, whilst their strike will hit some students hard, it will brush past me with less pressure than a light mist (even one made of cotton mix).
This is a situation, I suspect, which I share with many students – particularly in the humanities. The reason is simple: my timetable is a little on the light side. Basically, I have two seminars a week, both of which are on Wednesday mornings. That’s it. Finito. The rest of my time is spent on ‘self-directed learning’ – in other words, reading in the library. Well, not literally all of my other time, but the amount of effort I put into my degree is hardly the point.
Moreover, most of the timetabled hours that I attend are less lecturer-directed and more class-directed. I have no assessed seminars during this time (though others do), no essays to write, and no exams to sit. In fact, the AUT strike won’t touch me unless it continues until some time in September, when I graduate.
Which it won’t, of course. Nobody seriously believes the AUT’s threat to continue the strike indefinitely, not least because their members’ pay stops whilst on strike and they’ll run out of cash. The fact is that, trapped by the logic of the market and by the long-term nature of degrees (after all, it’s not like miners refusing to extract the coal that powers our light and heating, or firefighters allowing blazes to run out of control), lecturers have little power to improve their conditions. Strike actions such as the one that begins tomorrow are ultimately high-profile but rather futile exercises.
They’re also hardly the best way to make common cause with the student population – for despite all the ha-ha-funny stereotyping of jokes that students are only complaining about not being able to attend lectures they wouldn’t usually get out of bed for anyway, it doesn’t feel good being used as a pawn in this power-play between university authorities and their employees. It stings to think that the services that we paid for are not only not being offered, but that the university is pocketing the extra money for itself. The logical inconsistency of an AUT and NUS (and indeed SU) position that demands higher wages for lecturers whilst simultaneously decrying any increase in tuition fees also leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Quite apart from that, of course, I think that the AUT is barking up the wrong tree if it’s looking for help from student bodies: as the not-very-lamentable failure of student groups to prevent the implementation of the top-up fees system shows, they don’t have much clout.
Finally, to return to my studies: I admit that there are some damned good staff in my department who are knowledgeable, passionate about teaching, and available for consultation. However, there are also others who show no enthusiasm – or indeed aptitude – for communicating their ideas to a student audience. Yet the AUT would have me support pay increases for them both, thanks to a university system which calls us ‘consumers’ and then offers us no consumers’ rights. No thanks. Ultimately, the AUT’s empty threats and poorly-developed position on the issue of university finance as a whole leave me cold. Come tomorrow, I think I’ll be directing my own learning from the Hallward.