The UCU Strikes Aren’t a Simple Case of “For” or “Against”

For the other side of the story, read Dylan Springer’s case for the UCU strikes


In the calm, post-Christmas Bubble, with students slowly adjusting back into uni life – weekly Tesco shops, nights in 601, and the daily trek to 9 ams – tensions are slowly creeping into the town. Murmurs of agreement, and hearty disagreement, are filtering through lecture theatres, making many uneasy – how will the upcoming lecturer strikes affect us students?

Everyone, by now, is aware of the impending lecture strikes that will occur in February and March, lasting 14 days, following support for a ballot held by the University College Union (UCU). This is the consequence of pension cuts for lecturers, and is thought to affect 61 universities around the UK – St Andrews is no exception. Lecturers at these universities are thought to lose a significant £10,000 in retirement pensions per year. They wish for compensation that they are not receiving, and so will strike.

Photo: Wales Online

Although many students support this, believing in the fair treatment of those who give us our education – our futures – there are definitely negative murmurs of disagreement surrounding the main issue of money and contact hours.

Students from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland pay £9,000 annual tuition fees, and those overseas pay between £21,000 and £30,000, and more. Potentially losing two weeks worth of lectures (for most first year students, this averages at nine lectures per week) will undoubtedly cause a strain on this huge deposit.

As well as this, some students are worried about their contact hours with teachers. I recently read an article in response to the strikes with an enormous, almost uncomfortable backlash. Commenters said that students should be able to learn material for themselves; after all, lecturers merely read off slides, right?

It isn’t as black and white as this. After speaking to a few students, the general consensus was this: we come from education systems in which we thrived off contact time with our teachers. Of course, by now, the majority of students can, and should, work independently outside of class time; however, it is undeniable that it is far easier to understand material when it is being explained to you, rather than just relying on the uploaded slides.

Photo: University of St Andrews

Take my degree as an example among many others. Anyone learning languages knows the importance of contact hours – we must speak our language as often as possible, in order to make progress. While lectures do not necessarily involve one-to-one speaking, if a lecturer who is also a tutor strikes during a day on which they teach a seminar, then this will cause disruption.

Magda, a first year student of International Relations, said that she can understand lecturer strikes. However, it has left her uneasy in terms of the amount of teaching she will receive, as well as her fees as an international student. Returning to the US (for her unique joint degree program) in May, she has merely months to make the most out of her time at St. Andrews. Furthermore, many of her deadlines fall within the strike period. Lecturers stress that they are always on hand to answer questions, but this may leave those, who are already feeling uneasy, well out of their depth.

All in all, everyone will have a different opinion about lecturer strikes, and for a variety of reasons. Many remain uncertain, simply because they do not know enough about the impending issue. Morgan Young, a first year international student of IR, said “It’s definitely going to affect students; that’s undeniable (…) but when it comes down to it this is for the betterment of the university system.”

Photo: Socialist Party

A second year Classical Studies student, Emily Watson, said, “I find it concerning that members of staff are possibly going to be on strike for quite a large period of time (…) That being said, in St Andrews the majority of staff (academic, managerial and professional) are not part of the UCU – so it is unclear the amount of staff members who will be participating in the strike.”

By now, we realise that this is not a black and white answer. You cannot simply be “for or against” the lecturer strikes; most students are willing to see the problem – once they know enough about it – from the eyes of lecturers, but naturally have their own qualms about the negative impacts. According to The Telegraph, students are not necessarily against lecturers striking, but do wish to sign petitions to get their money back. The best we can currently do is to see what happens, carry on, and stay on top of work as much as possible.

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