An Open Letter to Students Not Supporting the UCU Strikes

Dear Students,

In case you’ve been living under a rock, there are major strikes happening in St Andrews. These strikes have polarized student opinions, whilst the overwhelming majority of professors and University staff members are supporting them. Students against the strike – mostly internationals –  are arguing that having paid for their education, they are entitled to receive it, even at the expense of their professors’ pensions and therefore, their very livelihoods. Professors and staff members are not striking simply because they feel like it; the strike is a last resort in response to the University’s continued unwillingness to communicate or negotiate. As workers, it is their right to strike and therefore express their opinion. And opinions such as these cannot stay in the shadows while everyday life goes on as normal. They are meant to disrupt, to pose questions and, ultimately, to cause action.

Photo: Geograph

Many of the students I have spoken to who were against the strikes blamed professors and University staff members for the suspension of their education during the strikes. They are mistaken; we should be looking higher up, at the University management and the governing bodies. They are central actors in the continued privatisation of education, which is spreading like a cancer through educational bodies. St Andrews is as guilty of this, if not more so, than other educational bodies. We cannot let public bodies of education fall into the inequality and oppression that privatisation represents, already visible through vastly increased tuitions (from £1000 to £9000 between 1997 and 2010). While the University Principal Sally Mapstone claims to “run a very tight budget,” money was somehow found to build a £10 million oceanography lab, a £14 million sports centre refurbishment program, and a £8 million music centre. These projects all contribute to the advancement of the student experience, and that is certainly good, but it is unacceptable if done at the expense of staff members. The University cannot exploit its staff while claiming with impunity to be doing the best for everyone.

Education is a right, not a service, and especially not a commodity. It should, and it must be provided freely and non-discriminately for everyone. No society can call itself equal that does not provide accessible education to all of its members. Similarly, no society can call itself equal that does not provide fair wages and life opportunities for all of its members, whether they be professors, PhD students, tutors, part-time staff, or any other person paid for their hard work by the University. How can our Proctor and Senior Vice-Principal, Professor Lorna Milne, claim that St Andrews cares deeply about members of staff while still refusing to offer them the right to a fair wage and a decent pension, especially as we see that “the real wages of professors and staff have been cut by almost 20% in the last decade”? How can a University that claims to be “doing all [it] can to ensure that staff continue to have access to an attractive, affordable and well-managed pension scheme” decide to not negotiate about the pensions in question, allowing each staff member lose an average of £10,000 per year? How is losing £10,000 a year “attractive” for a lecturer who earns an average of £33,943 per year?

Photo: Ellen White

The University of St Andrews cannot claim to want to cherish its staff while mutely agreeing to cut pensions as a cost-cutting measure. The culture of greed has gone too far and it is time to strike and voice our opinion against this cancer, I cannot stand by while this University exploits its members. The fight for an equal society is underway, and we must let nothing pass short of equality. Support the staff and join me on the picket lines!

The time for action is now.

Comments

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6 Replies to “An Open Letter to Students Not Supporting the UCU Strikes”

  1. I would argue that tertiary education remains a privilege and not a right, since a degree is not a requirement for obtaining a job which pays a living wage. In addition, tertiary education is notoriously elitist in terms of financial elements outwith tuition fees. A student below a certain income would struggle to make ends meet in St Andrews on account of the extortionate living costs, regardless of tuition fee waivers or available bursaries, which only cover so much and do not apply to things like mandatory textbooks costing several hundred quid.

    On the topic of international students complaining about the strikes: do they not have as much right to protest the loss of an education they have paid handsomely for, as their lecturers do to strike? Do those same lecturers not have a duty of care towards their students to at least provide basic material for study during cancelled class hours? Finally, if you as a student cannot in good conscience support an institution which exploits its staff, why continue to attend the university and by so doing support it financially with your own money?

    1. There are several problems with your initial premise: that tertiary education is not a right. While the statement in itself remains true in many parts of the world, that does not make it necessarily true.

      The problem, as I see it, is one of equality, and how equal we believe everyone is and should be. Is it fair to say that because someone was born poorer than another, that person should not have access to a tertiary education? Many countries believe this is not the case, and strangely enough these countries seem to have a much more equal society than other, more privatized countries.

      While tertiary education is not a requirement for finding a livable job, it certainly helps. Let us take a look at an example many in St Andrews can relate to, the United States. In the United States, the average income for workers with just a high school diploma is ~35,000 dollars per year, with unemployment rate of 5.4%. The average income for workers with an undergraduate degree is ~60,000 dollars per year, with an unemployment rate of 2.8%. This does not take into account the age of the workers, any benefits, etc. Would you in good conscience deny poorer students access to tertiary education, seemingly claiming that because it is not necessary to provide a “living wage”, that makes it not a right at all?

      I know several students struggling to make ends meet in St Andrews, and using that as an excuse for why they should not be here will not help them at all.

      International students have every right to protest, but the fact that their protest is aimed at striking staff members rather than at the management of the University (This is actually changing for the better as students realise what is going on) highlights the fundamental flaws in the system. Staff members are educators and they have a duty to educate, but that cannot come at the cost of their livelihoods. If you want to protest, go ahead, but do not protest against them, they are fighting for their lives. Protest against those who oppress them.

      Your lecturers and staff members are striking so they can continue to teach you. In the past few years they have tried everything they could to not have to strike, and it is horrible that it had to come to this. They are not just striking for themselves, they are striking for the whole future of education.

      Finally, your last premise assumes that if I claim I cannot stand by and watch this University oppress its staff members, I must therefore leave this University and stop supporting it. Me leaving will make no difference, there are thousands of people who are desperate for a chance to come here, so it is a duty to stay here and try to better the system I am in, rather than leaving it. By leaving I would be essentially stating that nothing more can be done, and I cannot in good conscience do that either.

  2. I have every right to protest against staff members instead of the university I hope you would acknowledge this. I have protested against University staff protesting by emailing them to argue against their position and they have thrown baseless accusation of violating the Sponsio academic thing in an attempt to silence me . By all means you have a right to protest however if those taking part in the strikes do not think others should have this right as demonstrated by their attempts to use their power to silence me how can they expect others to afford them their right to strike.

    1. I am not denying you the right to protest at all. Nor are these lecturers who are arguing against your protest.

      You cannot possibly think that people will “agree to disagree”, protest each quietly about their own issues and leave one another alone?

      That is the beauty of a University, that it is a place of learning, debate and reflection. It is not because I am passionate about this issue as many others are that we are suddenly denying your right to protest against the protesters.

      So yes, of course you can protest, as can we, but don’t expect anyone to simply watch you and not react, because what you are protesting against is a livable pension, and those you are protesting against are angry, as they have every right to be.

      1. The problem is not that they are arguing against my protest that is absolutely fine and I never said anything to the contrary of this so you are attacking a strawman the problem as I clearly stated in my original comment is they have thrown baseless accusation of violating the Sponsio academic thing in an attempt to silence me . I have every right to be angry at them. Do you support their attempt to silence me in any way if so you do not support the right protest.

        1. Considering I do not know what you told them about their protest I cannot know why they accused you of violating the Sponsio Academica and so I cannot comment.

          Being angry at them is directing your anger at the wrong people. The reason they are striking is so that they can live on a pension that is being cut savagely by the UUK, and yet you are angry at these staff members. The reason they strike is so they can continue to teach without being afraid for their livelihoods, and yet you are angry at them. The reason they strike is so your education is not cut to shreds and replaced by a greed-fueled system that oppresses the, and yet you are angry.

          If you are angry, then be angry at the right people, be angry at the oppressors, not the oppressed.

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