The recent poll conducted by the Rectorial team showed that 53% of students at St Andrews support the lecturers’ strikes. Not long ago, I was proud to call myself one of them, even writing an article on why students should support the strikes. But not anymore. Here are just three of the blatant lies told to us by striking lecturers that lost them my support and, potentially, could lose them the dirty fight they dragged us into.
- If Universities UK opened up negotiation, we would call off the strike tomorrow.
Anyone hearing this would assume that is was UUK being stubborn, UUK refusing to negotiate, UUK refusing to compromise. What choice did lecturers have but to strike when faced by such an obstinate foe? As it turned out, UUK did come to the negotiation table, with an interim proposal as a step towards a long-term and sustainable solution. But the strike was not called off the following day. In fact, UUK has demonstrated a strong desire to communicate and negotiate with the UCU, meeting 35 times to discuss the issue and extending the deadline for making a decision twice. It is the UCU that has refused to budge. Striking lecturers don’t want to negotiate. They don’t want to compromise. They want their way or no way, and they are more than willing to sacrifice our education to get it.
- We’re not asking for much.
Who could possibly argue with the poor, underpaid, undervalued university lecturer, only asking for the most basic level of security when they retire? Having done a little research however, this picture starts to fall apart. The potential losses of £10,000 are large but compromise only part of the overall pension. Moreover, this much-flouted figure is very much a worst-case scenario, with Aon predicting that even after changes to the pension scheme, it should perform at 80-90% of its previous value.
Exaggerations aside, let us put this figure into context. The basic State Pension in the UK is £6359.60 a year. After UUK’s proposed changes, employer contributions to lecturers’ pensions will stand at 18%. The UK private sector average is less than half that figure.
Clearly, the pensions that striking lecturers are fighting for are worth more than most retiring people could ever dream of. Even after amendments, lecturers would still receive the sort of pensions virtually unattainable in the private sector. Yet they continue to deny students the education we are paying for in order to protect a position of privilege that those very same students are unlikely to ever receive. This is not justice. This is greed. And it’s ugly.
- We’re on the students’ side.
This is perhaps the biggest lie among them. As if the missed lectures and tutorials caused by the strikes were not enough indication, a recent leaked email that summarised the UCU members’ views in St Andrews highlights their willingness to exploit student vulnerability in order to achieve their ends. The email details how the members plan to hold 14 strike days over the exam period, causing maximum disruption for students and staff alike, hailing this tactic as their ‘unbeatable weapon’ and mocking the powerlessness of the university which has ‘no answer to it’.
The gleeful tone of the email is difficult to ignore. You can practically hear smacking lips as they salivate over the chaos they wish to cause. Nowhere is it mentioned of the distress this action will cause to students, the anxiety and suffering it will bring at an already-stressful time of year, never mind for those set to graduate in just a few short months. But why should it? Our suffering is just a ‘weapon’ for them. Our anxiety and stress is irrelevant as long as they get to keep their gilded pensions when they retire.
In conclusion, I have lost all patience and respect for lecturers on strike. They have been unwilling to compromise with UUK. They have denied students the education we are paying for in order to protect their privileged pensions, the likes of which most of us will never get to see. They have held our grades and mental health to ransom to bolster their demands. But they should be careful. Misleading, insulting and lying to students may have got them far, but now that their real attitudes towards us have been exposed, something tells me their level of student support may not stay so high for long. In fact, it’s just got a little bit smaller already.