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Dear strikes: Love, a frustrated international student

I don’t really feel like sleeping in any more

If there’s anything that starting university during Covid should have warned me about, it was that we were in for a ride. Whilst my overall university experience has been a couple of the best years of my life, my university experience falls just a little short. 

When my second year was interrupted by strikes, I was a little more apathetic about it all. The lecturers were trying to get what they want, and I was trying to get a couple of extra hours of shut-eye. Having more time to be with my friends and do my extracurriculars – those being things I value the most in uni life – made second year my favourite out of the three I’ve had so far.

But this year, I’m fighting for my future. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m here on my parents’ dime. But that means I feel a huge amount of pressure to do well during my education and make it all worth something because I am one of their biggest investments. I know that my family will support me through whatever comes and will love me regardless, but I want to make them proud by making the most of what they’ve given me. And for the £‎54,000 they’ve paid for my time here? Well, what we students have received are months of unprecedented disruption. 

One could argue that the strikes haven’t done much. The University and College Union (UCU) has been organising strike action for four years. And they have no plans to stop. I’m tired of feeling guilty about walking past picket lines, yet I’m tired of feeling guilty about not being in class. There is no winning for any student, especially not those who are staring at two-word PowerPoint slides in the face of looming final-year assessments.

I can’t afford to defer my studies or my exam season, I’m on a visa that will cut my access to this country before the end of the year. Sure, I could probably look into extending it if it comes down to it, but what about my applications for a postgraduate degree, and the visa that I will need to get for that? There are layers after layers of contingency plans for my future right now, and while I’ve never been the most spontaneous person anyway, the constant stress is exhausting.

As frustrated as I am with my overall university life, I get it. I say that I’m working towards my future and career, but my lecturers are living theirs right now. And it’s unfair. If I were in academia right now, wanting to help young people achieve their dreams, I would want to be paid what I am worth. Where is my £‎54,000 going? Why can’t more of it go to my professors and why is it so hard to give fair working conditions? Students are paying fees and accumulating debt for education that isn’t as advertised, and although they are the people bringing money in for universities, there is no school without teachers. 

And as for the strike days coming in the next couple of months? I’m not happy, but I understand. I’m in a very privileged position to be here for my education, and I’m going to try my best despite the circumstances. But say in 20 years’ time, I’m the one in need of better working conditions and fair pay. Well, I’d like as many people on my side as I can get.