So far this term, one theme that cannot be underplayed has been protest and dispute at the University of Bristol.
In this issue, we have stories on further opposition to the pastoral review in the forms of the ‘Hands off our Halls’ march (page 4) and the SU referendum (page 4), as well as a protest against the University of Bristol’s animal experimentation. These issues firmly show how engaged Bristol students are, something we should be proud of and celebrate. But while a lot us may be enraged by the same issues, maybe we don’t do enough to make our grievances heard as an article written by our Features Editor inspired by on the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote aims to illustrate (page 8).
However, one dispute that I don’t think has received enough attention amongst students is the UCU strike (page 3). Whenever it comes up in conversation, there is normally someone who hasn’t heard that 4 weeks of their teaching might be affected. Even if people have heard about it, maybe they don’t know why university staff are striking, a common theme in the survey we ran to collect opinions on the action (page 3). Students are in uproar that university officials have taken so long to reach out to its students. Indeed, the only contact I have had is from my lecturers who have informally told us why and when they were striking.
At the face of it, it seems deeply unfair. We are losing 14 days of university teaching. In your final year, in any year, can that be justified considering we pay so much in tuition? Exams aren’t going to be changed to reflect the material we haven’t been taught, no extenuating circumstances and no rescheduling of teaching (something the UCU have recommended to cause maximum disruption to persuade employers to return to negotiations).
However, when you look deeper, I think it is obvious why university staff see striking as their only option, and I firmly support their action, a sentiment shared by our Deputy Science Editor in his comment piece on page 11. Cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) mean the average staff may be around £10,000 a year worse off in their retirement as their pension schemes move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme. They are taking on a financial burden by striking as staff members do not get paid for every day they strike. As one respondent to our survey said: ‘I stand to lose £1626.80 in salary in the next couple of months... I can’t afford to strike...nor can I afford not to.’ It is important to remember striking is the last resort- negotiations between the UCU and universities have been long-running and ultimately failed, prompting the action.
The student mentality that the strikes mean we are not getting what we are paying for is a symptom of the marketization of higher education and rising tuition fees. In our new position as customers of universities, we ignore the rights and future quality of life of staff members who work so hard and enjoy teaching us. The marketization of higher education affects all of us negatively, and rather than criticise staff, we should join them to protest issues that actually affect the whole university community. Lecturers have a future too, and they have every right to strike to safeguard this future.
In more positive news, the University have successfully divested their investments in companies that make significant profits from fossil fuels after successful campaigning from Fossil Free society (page 5) and Bristol has seen the biggest increase in the admittance of state school students in the Russell Group (page 4).
In Epigram news, shockingly we only have FOUR issues of the academic year left until we pass control of the media suite, email accounts and social media onto the next team. Determined to make the most of the time we have left, Noa and I are planning something exciting for the next issue, a green issue which will kick start our Epi-green week. Our online team (shout out to Georgia, Lucy, Joe and our webmaster, James) are busy working on a new website to be released as soon as possible (it is looking amazing) and we now have a radio show on Burst, hosted by Cameron Scheijde and Ollie Smith on Wednesdays at 9am. See you in two weeks!
Originally published in Epigram 323.
What do you think about the UCU strikes?? Let us know: