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Here’s why the university should be financially compensating students over the strikes

With the recent strikes across universities affecting contact hours for thousands of students, Matteo Everett argues we should be asking for compensation

Four weeks of stressful strikes might prompt some naysayers to joke that the issue has afforded students more lie-in time, but the university strikes are no laughing matter.

I must preface this article by saying the views expressed herein are by no means a condemnation of striking staff or their actions (I fully sympathise with lecturers’ strikes at the humiliating cuts to their pensions), but rather suggestions for how the university can make good Vice-Chancellor Shearer West’s claim that diminishing adverse effects on students is a priority.

The Case for Compensation

It is difficult to deny that the grades of students who are losing a total of fourteen days of formal education spread over a four-week period will inevitably be affected.

Fourteen days may not sound much in isolation, but considering they are clustered together towards the end of the year, many students are losing a vast percentage of their contact hours – this is especially damaging for third-year students whose exams and coursework grades are worth a much greater percentage of their overall qualification than those of second-years and freshers. The situation is even more dire for Masters students, who are losing close to a quarter of the time they thought they would have to study for an entire qualification.

“Those who have attempted to raise complaints have been met with brick walls”

Inevitably, there will be the arguments that with independent learning and study, students’ performances should not be greatly affected (isn’t university all about independent study, anyway?), but without sufficient guidance and communication, many students will find themselves at a loss with how to proceed with coursework and revision, who will be further hindered by striking staff not engaging in electronic communication throughout the striking period.

Understandably, many students want compensation, and while Shearer West’s open letter invites students to “raise complains” through the Students’ Union website, those who are attempting to do so have been met with brick walls.

One student who emailed questions about compensation for the hefty £9,000 received in reply a quoted bullet-point lifted straight from the Q&A banged onto West’s letter:

“Tuition fees themselves cover an extremely wide range of services and facilities provided by the University year-round, including teaching but also the buildings, equipment, library services,” etc.

(Interestingly, the letter also states that ‘Tuition fees’ cover ‘sports facilities’, but I suppose nobody told that to the people who decided Sports Membership should cost £200 per year.)

“Desire for financial reimbursement is valid”

While it is true that the fees do indeed go toward a variety of services, it is undeniable that some of the money students pay goes toward teaching. I will not pretend to possess much knowledge about the intricacies of where students’ fees go and to what extent refunds are realistically possible even if the university wanted to refund students – no doubt there are a plethora of legal complications involved in this process – so this article may lean on the side of idealism; however, it is important to recognise that desire for financial reimbursement is a valid one.

Universities are businesses who sell services, and at the start of their degree students decide to enter into an essential contract with the university-company they choose to attend with some prior knowledge of how many hours of teaching they can expect to receive, a fact confirmed at the start of each academic year when the official teaching schedule is laid out for them.

To lose what has practically become for many students with few contact hours four entire weeks of a semester – almost half of the term – is, inarguably, not what students have signed up for, and not what students have agreed to pay for. Just as somebody who buys an iPhone, only to find out half of its features aren’t working, shouldn’t be expected to pay full price for the product, neither should students be expected to dish out £9,000 for an already-scarce year of roughly 20 weeks’ education they have only, in practicality, received 16 of.

“The university should consider issuing blanket extenuating circumstances”

It is beyond unrealistic that the university will offer genuine financial compensation to students, so the least they can do is realise that the strikes will have an adverse effect on students’ grades. Even if the most gifted, most hard-working student puts in all the independent learning they can muster, the truth is missing four weeks’ of nurturing education inside the classroom will inevitably negatively influence performance, especially so close to the unofficial start of the essay season that is Easter holidays.

The situation is perhaps worst for students who are supposed to be taking part in group work, and who have only recently, or have yet to, receive their groups, and are expected to meet over the holidays to work towards as-yet-unconfirmed deadlines, a situation which could have entirely been avoided with some forethought.

The very least the university can do is to recognise that grades will be affected, and that the difference between a 2.2 and a 2.1 truly can be the difference between a Masters, or a dream grad job, and unemployment. The university should consider issuing blanket extenuating circumstances to curb the negative implications the strikes will have had on students’ grades.

But just as I believe staff have the right to demand their pensions should not be cut, so too I believe that students have the right to demand compensation for their lost weeks of teaching and learning, even if the university is insistent on showing us the brick wall.

Matteo Everett

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Image courtesy of Chris Bertram on Flickr.

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