The strikes victimised students far more than management or UUK - we must show an awareness of this


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Comment Editor, Ed Southgate, looks back at the strike action and the effects that are currently being felt by students, arguing that the student body are the ones that have felt the impact far more than Senior Management or UUK.

In a previous article, I mentioned how we are all getting a little tired of the strikes, of discussion about the strikes, and of the effects of the strikes. Unfortunately, because the continuation of the strikes is still undecided and the effects of the strikes are being increasingly felt, discussion about them from me must continue.

Previous dialogue about the strike action whilst it was on revolved around three things;

  1. The lack of tuition students were receiving, thus impacting their education
  2. Whether it was right or not to cross the picket line
  3. That the strikes were a sign to senior management and Universities UK (UUK) that our lecturers would not accept potential cuts to their pension

What our dialogue, at least on this campus, missed out was the crucial question of who the strikes would impact the most. The purpose of the strikes was of course to send a message to senior management and to UUK; to send that message, the impact of the strikes must pressumably have been intended to be directed towards them. The countless emails from lecturers apologising for being on strike, and the countless emails from Student Support Offices telling us that no one wants the strikes to adversely effect students too much would certainly imply students were not the intentional targets.

It is the students who are suffering the most

However, now that the effects of the action are slowly being felt, and that we are receiving so little support through it, it is clear that management were not the most affected. UUK were also not the most affected. It is the students who are suffering the most.

We have suffered in almost every sense; economically, academically, and socially. We have had the economic arguments over what should happen to our lost tuition fees too often, and from where I am standing the decision to invest it back into student services is a grand conclusion to that matter. However, we are still losing out academically and socially.

I have detailed in a previous article the woeful organisation and communication we have faced from the HUMs office. To reiterate, we were told we would have no extensions. We were then teased with the possibility of extensions, and were told we would hear the next day. We did not have clarification until a week letter, and even this was not from an email to all students but from a new submission schedule uploaded onto Blackboard (that the office did not notify us of). And now we finally have some extensions. How on earth they have had the nerve to say they care about the impact the strikes have had on us, when they so willfully have been this disorganised and caused us so much extra and unnecessary stress is beyond me.

To top that off, before we had these extensions and when I had four deadlines worryingly close together, I emailed a tutor in advance for some reccommended reading so I could get ahead (you know, like we are encouraged to do in terms of managing our time when we have deadlines). I did not get a response for 17 days. Having spoken to that tutor, I now have a better understanding as to why there was such a delay, but one would still think that if there was a serious effort for the aftermath of the strikes not to impact our studies there may have been a little more effort to reply sooner, as such a delay could have really impacted my essay preparation were our deadlines not extended. All of my other tutors have managed to reply to me in good time, so it is still disheartening that this one did not.

Case after case after case of woeful communication with students has cropped up, and it is not painting the picture that students are the priority in the aftermath of the strikes. For yet another example, the HUMs office had to email us clarifying that one of our essays was 3,000 words because a previous submission schedule erroneously said it was 2,000. Students on courses such as Archaeology & Anthropology and History have not heard back about queries relating to exams on topics they have not been taught on. If the University thinks this is supporting us in the aftermath of the strikes, I'd be very concerned. This constant apparent dismissal of our academic needs across the different departments means the effects of the strike are threatening not just our degree, but our mental well being too. Being in the midst of a crippling mental health crisis, I would hope the University would have taken us a little more seriously.

Victimising students is of course contrary to what we have been told the main intentions of the strike were. Our subject departments and our tutors have repeatedly told us that they do not want to be on strike, that they want to be in the lecture halls and seminar rooms teaching us, and that they do not wish for the strike to have too adverse an impact on our studies. We of course have no reason to doubt any of this, however the very nature of the strikes they have undertaken means that thesententions towards us cannot come to fruition.

Indeed, what did the strikes consist of? They consisted primarily of missed lectures and seminars, meaning the direct effect was towards students. Of course, it sends a signal to Senior Management, but that is not the same as the direct and destructive effects on students not receiving the tuition that they both want and need. It is certainly not as impactful as the added stress caused by the inability of the School Offices, such as the HUMs Office, to provide clarity and support in the wake of the strikes.

By undertaking the action, our lecturers are inevitably and knowingly adversely affecting us

To the management, we represent a tiny cohort of students that will come and go; other cohorts of students have come before us, and more cohorts will come after us. But this is our education, our future, and our lives that is being threatened to an unprecedented scale. The large-scale impacts for us, therefore, are little more than an inconvenience for them that they will hopefully work through in time for future cohorts.

Because of this, we need to be supported and we need to be given clarity of our situation - far more than we are currently receiving. But perhaps more pressingly, if these strikes are to continue following the ballot currently open on whether to accept or reject the new deal between UUK and UCU, they should continue with the knowledge that they are not going to impact management in the way that they are said to. They are going to impact students the most.

I accept and respect our lecturers' right to strike, and will support that right if they choose to continue this action. I will no longer, however, accept nor respect any attempt to tell me they do not wish to cause us any harm with their strikes. The purpose of the strike is to cause disruption - that disruption is first and foremost to us. By undertaking the action, our lecturers are inevitably and knowingly adversely affecting us, despite it being with a very heavy heart. Any attempt to try tell us otherwise is a little insulting.

By saying this, I do not wish or mean to cause friction between students and staff. We should all be supporting each other in every way that we can, but that means an awareness that the strikes will impact students more than expected or wanted must be shown.

I do not wish or mean to cause friction between students and staff

If we want to resolve this dispute as quickly and as smoothly as possible, we must all show an awareness that, whether we like it or not, students will always be the real and main victims of any industrial action. No amount of emails saying it is not the intention to harm us will change that.

Featured Image: Epigram / Evy Tang

Who do you think are the main victims of the strikes? Let us know...

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Ed Southgate

former co-Editor in Chief 2018-2019 | former Editor of Epigram Comment 2017-2018 | UoB English student 2016-19 | Twitter: @ed_southgate