On Monday 25th UCU members at UoN started an 8 working-day strike over changes to their pensions, rates of pay and working conditions. Unfortunately for students, the whole point of striking is to be as disruptive and inconvenient as possible and it often feels like it’s to our detriment with teaching grinding to a halt.
Strike action in the education sector is nothing new and UoN’s last lot was in the spring semester of 2018 across 4 weeks, calling for changes to pensions to be scrapped. Since the pension plans are still being challenged nearly 18 months later it begs the question: what is the point in strike action when it affects so many students?
Rock up to your Monday 9am and feel nothing but rage at getting out of bed for absolutely nothing
You’ll probably have noticed that a number of your lecturers haven’t been at uni, your tutors have been absent and no one is replying to your e-mails. Some may have informed you but others might not have, leading you to rock up to your Monday 9am and feel nothing but rage at getting out of bed for absolutely nothing.
Plenty of students feel annoyed at the prospect of losing valuable teaching hours and contact time so close to the end of term when essay deadlines and exam prep are looming. Especially if the cancelled classes don’t get rescheduled so, YES, you really will just have to learn that whole topic from a power point. An expensive power point too.
If our classes aren’t happening then what are we paying for?
One student who experienced the last round of strike action told me plainly “I want my money back”, and walking around campus it appears that a lot of students feel the same. In 2018 it came out that some students did a full cost breakdown to work out how much they were owed for each cancelled lecture and requested a refund. And it’s understandable – we pay more now than any students previous for the exact same degrees. If our classes aren’t happening then what are we paying for? Our striking lecturers aren’t being paid so where exactly does that money go? It’s not ideal.
We put x amount of money in and get y amount of education out
However, what’s also not ideal is the way that our current education system makes us think that our education is a commodity. Dropping 30k (most likely in debt) on a degree isn’t the same as buying something material like a car. It’s not something that’s easily quantified and yet it’s increasingly seen as transactional. It seems kind of weird to think that we put x amount of money in and get y amount of education out. It misses the point that we are the most important part of the equation – we have to actively want to learn and we can do that in a lot of ways.
Education is what happens when you leave your lectures, look at the world and see theories and statistics in practice
Education then, doesn’t have to always look so much like a lecture hall, and the strikes are challenging that, with staff and students organising ‘teach-outs’ and speeches on the picket line, starting interesting conversations and showing first-hand what a labour movement looks like. Education is what happens when you leave your lectures, look at the world and see theories and statistics in practice – what better way to do that than having a chat with people who are striking.
Sometimes we forget that teaching staff and students are working towards the same thing.
The thing is, lecturers might be messing up your timetable but they aren’t doing it for the sake of it – the idea is to show the university that their labour is vital to ‘business as usual’ and should be valued as such. They do so much to help us learn beyond just lecturing and making seminar handouts; without them there wouldn’t be any inspiration, any guidance, any learning atmosphere. Yet their treatment does not reflect their contributions; the gender pay gap is still a thing, hours of unpaid work, casualisation of contracts, strict outlines on teaching, the list goes on. Sometimes we forget that teaching staff and students are working towards the same thing.
The strike is inconvenient but it’s important. Historically strike action has been the most successful way to show the value and power of a workforce. You don’t have to be happy about it to see that. We all get angry and then the uni has to negotiate with the union and that’s how things can start to change. So be as angry as you want. But direct that anger to a place that’s useful.
— ? stuart reeves (@5tuartreeves) November 26, 2019
In 2018 I used my annoyance to disrupt and I took some time to sort my life out – I wrote some strongly worded e-mails to uni management expressing my devastation at being denied my 9ams (so distraught), I slept in late for a good few weeks and I caught up with my reading lists. This time round you’ll find me on the picket line with staff and students alike trying to redefine education and what it means to be part of the UoN community – you’re all welcome to join!
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