Today was the first day of a fourteen day strike period held by members of the UCU. Callum Marshall has shared his views on the matter and proposes a way students could also aid the cause.
As many of you will know, members of the UCU will be going on strike this term if no meaningful progress has been made regarding the sustainability of the USS pension scheme and universities’ failure to make real improvements to pay, equality, casualisation of contracts and unmanageable workloads.
The current state of the higher education sector is dire. It essentially runs on taking advantage of its employees. Early career academics, something I hope to be in the not so distant future, are being given contracts that see them forced to live in situations of extreme precarity. Academics in general feel as if they are on a sinking ship. They are being given ridiculous workloads that require them to give up their weekends and evenings to manage. These extra hours they put in are all unpaid. Within the last few years, it has become very clear that the entire idea of a university as we know it is under threat.
I am a student and, like many of us, I am immensely frustrated that my education is being disrupted for what is the third time in my degree. However, I am not at all frustrated with the staff. All my frustrations are directed at the universities themselves. University management, nationwide, has failed to engage in any meaningful talks with the UCU and has offered little more than token gestures to its students. Our University, for example, will be offering us a small amount of compensation for the 2019 strikes. I believe this compensation is tiny compared to what is actually owed to many of us. Even more, it has come to my attention that not all departments are as helpful as mine when it comes to lessening the impact of the strikes on their students. My department extended my deadlines in the last strike. This is far more than other departments have done. Frankly, I find it astonishing that this kind of action is left to the discretion of individual departments and is not part of a university-wide protocol. This brings me to the National Student Survey (NSS).
The NSS is focused on student satisfaction. I for one, am not satisfied. I am not satisfied with the incredibly inconsistent experience that students have had on this campus. It is not right that my subject choice should determine the amount of support I am given during strike periods. I am not satisfied with the fact that I have seen lecturers break down in tears over the situations that they are being forced to live in. I am not satisfied that the people who provide the world-class education we receive, are having their passion abused for the benefit of those who run the higher education sector. I am not satisfied that students in their final year, like myself, have lost a term of teaching, over the course of their whole degree, and have been offered a mere slither of what we paid for it as a ‘goodwill gesture’.
I propose is that we all boycott the NSS until the university implements universal guidelines on how to lessen the impact on students and they address the concerns of staff relating to working conditions and contracts. I think that the emails sent to all staff and students, on the 13th of February show that the University most definitely needs to address the latter. The emails only mention the USS as the reason for the strikes. They make no mention of what is, arguably, the more pressing concern: Contracts and working conditions. These emails display one of two things: Ignorance or audacity. In my opinion, either the University is completely oblivious to half of the reasons to strike, or they have chosen to skirt around the issue. Both answers do not reflect the values that I thought this university held.
If the University fails to address either of these issues, then I think they simply don’t deserve NSS results. I am, of course, aware that there is a charity drive behind the NSS. For every survey completed, the University will donate £1 to local causes. It is absolutely not my intention to deprive local causes of funds. However, I believe most people can donate £1 to a local charity, if they so wish. I am also not encouraging deliberately negative NSS surveys. I encourage all students to be truthful when filling out the NSS. However, if we see no action then there is no point in filling it out. Perhaps this will not bother the University at all. However, the strength of this year’s NSS campaign suggests otherwise.