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Sophie Preston questions the validity of students requesting compensation for missed teaching hours following the recent UCU strike action, and argues there should be more consideration for students who might not get the degree they deserve.
Why students shouldn’t be calling for refunds over the USS strikes
Higher education is facing the biggest strike action in years – action that is entirely necessary, as academics face losing £10,000 of their pension every year. Our lecturers work hard in educating the next generation and deserve justice. At the same time, students face the prospect of huge debt once they graduate. Consequently, as a result of tuition time lost over the course of the strikes we are being urged to write to Vice Chancellor Hugh Brady to demand a refund. However, is this really a fair outcome for students?
"We will not lose academics as a result of reduced pensions – pensions in the private sector have been squeezed by an ageing population for quite some time"
It is difficult to fully support strike action whilst our future hangs in the balance. Students are being coerced into joining the pickets. Many have been harassed for attending lectures that are not affected by strike action and for entering libraries. How can we continue our studies in the absence of tuition when we are being placed under pressure not to use study spaces and resources? Realistically, other tactics could have been used and arguably more effectively. There are academics who are striking, yet continue to work on their research. As a Russell Group university, we are founded upon research. Each paper can be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Therefore withholding research could have been an excellent strategy to put pressure on UUK to reach a favourable outcome with UCU. However it is obviously tuition strikes that will garner the most media attention.
"I did not pay to come to university to be my own lecturer" | Phoebe Chasehttps://t.co/cnNMfh8CZS— Epigram Comment (@EpigramComment) March 17, 2018
This is not about future generations of academics. We will not lose academics as a result of reduced pensions – pensions in the private sector have been squeezed by an ageing population for quite some time, with private sector employees receiving half the employer pension contribution than UUK even under the proposed new system. Yet, new graduates join private sector professions year upon year. Academia will not be any different. Academics are not the only people to have faced a change in the ‘rules of the game’ after signing a contract. The interest scheme of our student loans were changed after we began our degree such that repaying the loan will cost much more than we agreed to.
"Refunded tuition fees cannot possibly account for the detrimental effect this is sure to have on our work"
For many students, especially those in their final year, the strike action is causing stress and anxiety. It could not have come at worse time – as our lecturers are aware. In the crucial final four weeks before dissertations are due in some Schools, students will receive no guidance from their dissertation supervisor. We have been told there is to be no extension on deadlines for coursework or dissertations despite being deprived of office hours and contact via email. To add insult to injury, coursework handed in on time will not be returned on time as a result of the strikes. Extending the interval before receiving feedback on work will surely also heighten anxiety regarding marks. Refunded tuition fees cannot possibly account for the detrimental effect this is sure to have on our work. Therefore, I believe students should not be demanding refunds.
Compensation will never account for the possibility that we do not receive the final grade in our degrees that we deserve. Academics deserve their pensions back, but we also deserve an appropriate outcome for three years of hard work. I urge students to contact their Course Reps to demand action in the form of extensions and special consideration in marking. Additionally, we need assurance from our Schools regarding the protocol for extension of the strikes into the exam period.
Demand more information from your schools. Demand extensions. Demand special considerations. Demand a refund, because although the strike opposes marketization of higher education it has already happened. We have already paid our fees for an education that has not been delivered. However, if you are really concerned with the affect the strikes will have on your degree, it is our Schools that need to put mitigation measures in place and communicate them to us.
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