Strikes are back but they’re not affecting uni VCs – students are the ones struggling

Stop making the uni’s poor working conditions my problem

Today is the first of the UCU’s 18 days of strike action during February and March, and to be honest, I’ve been low-key panicking ever since the strikes were announced last month.

Most people in third year like me will have had slightly tumultuous first (and second) years owing to Covid, only to be hit with lecturer strikes, a housing crisis, and the cost of living crisis in their final year. Following the announcement of the strike dates, it’s understandable that third years are feeling a little short-changed.

Students are being put in a difficult position – but it feels like the VCs aren’t

Despite the difficulty of our entire uni experience, no additional support or even advice is being provided. If all 18 strike days go ahead, I will have just three days of teaching this term before I graduate.

My university’s advice has been perfunctory to say the least – they released an email the day strike dates were released informing students that they only had one strike date, when in the UCU had confirmed all 18 dates earlier that day. Their advice seems to be if we’re worried to go to the university wellbeing – a service which is also hugely overburdened, with some students experiencing around a two to three week wait for an appointment.

I’m tired of students feeling like they have to chose between their morals and their emotions

I – like all the students I have spoken to – believe in the strikes. Everyone deserves the right to strike, and the working conditions, contracts and pension cuts faculty are being subjected to are not acceptable. Ultimately people don’t strike unless they have to – conditions have to be at breaking point for such drastic action to be taken.

The fundamental argument remains that you’re not an ally if you only support strikes when they don’t affect you. Strikes are designed to cause disruption, highlighting how important their work is. However this notion feels as though it’s being weaponised to stop students complaining about the impact it will have on their experience.

Supporting the strikes and being upset or worried are not mutually exclusive

In the chaos of the strike announcement and subsequent division between the university and its faculty, the fact that students can be angry and still support the strikes is getting lost. Being angry does not make students bad allies – in fact it makes them stronger ones.

Remembering that it is the vice-chancellors and government who are are the heart of these problems and not the lecturers, allows student’s anger to be aimed in the same direction as the lecturers. Whether students support the strikes or not, the outcome is technically the same. Students who support them ally with the lecturers against the VCs. Students who do not support them should realise the root of the problem is not the lecturers but the vice-chancellors.

You are not selfish for being angry

If all 18 days of strike action go ahead, it will be the biggest UK university strike in history. We’re paying so much money and not getting the experience out of it that we should – this student debt is probably going to be our biggest long term relationship, so it’s understandable people make sure it’s worth it.

Strikes have almost become a normal occurrence at uni when they should be anything but. Strikes affect every part of our uni experience: it’s not just the academic, but our mental well-being, our social lives, and frankly our sanity. Especially for students doing dissertations, contact with lecturers is vital. Being able to successfully understand every part of our degree shouldn’t necessarily be something we have to do completely by ourselves.

We came to university to learn and be challenged, not to be shown things that were easy or we already knew. Our lecturers make our university experience – without that fundamental part, it is just not the same. Being angry about something that is having a deep impact on your life shouldn’t make us “difficult” or “whiny”, it makes us strong and principled. Being angry is one of the most powerful ways we can make change, we shouldn’t be letting our universities tell us not to be – if anything their fear over our noise shows us that that is exactly what we should be doing.

My university experience has been littered with massive upheavals – I know realistically I probably won’t get any money back as everyone has had the same experience, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all deserve it – and we should still be allowed to vocalise our anger.

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