From self-interest to solidarity: Why I support the strikes as an Edinburgh final year

If you jump ship as soon as the going gets tough, your support is just empty words

Despite having had strikes across three of the four years, spending almost £40,000 and ‘graduating’ with an unclassified degree, I believe students still face a simple decision: to support striking staff or not. 

I genuinely wish this situation wasn’t happening and our work received the proper evaluation, removing any looming uncertainties. But it is happening, I received an email yesterday informing me that my degree has been delayed and that they “cannot provide a clear indication” of when a final decision will be reached.

When I decided to come to university, the prospect of writing a dissertation had a considerable appeal. The opportunity to use all the skills I had learnt but outside the constraints of a curriculum enticed me, and, like many students, I poured my heart and soul into my project.

So, when I heard about the marking and assessment boycott (MAB), and it began to dawn on me that this piece of work might not get marked, I was plunged into anxiety and uncertainty. Shortly after the boycott was announced, I met with my dissertation supervisor, in which I said to him, “Look, I support you, but I can’t be in solidarity with you all on this. It just affects students too much.”

This was particularly contentious as solidarity was the subject of my paper. His eyebrows raised, and a puzzled, almost hurt expression flashed briefly across his face. But I dug in, sure that an injustice to students of this magnitude was unjustifiable.

However, the more this sat with me, the more my internal dial began to shift. I have spent the last 14 months thinking about solidarity and the previous eight months writing a dissertation that I fell in love with – how disingenuous would it be if I don’t support staff now?

Theories of solidarity generally agree that solidarity with someone, or some group, requires being willing to set aside narrow self-interest if necessary.

I began to realise that my concerns fall neatly into the category of narrow self-interest: wanting the ego stroking of a good grade, an on-time graduation, a speedy application to master programmes, et cetera, et cetera.

On the other hand, the concerns of UCU members are more fundamental: not being able to put enough food on the table or pay the bills. The psychological stress is unimaginable.

By contrast, staff worries are less individualised and more temporally elongated. They include future staff and pupils, the future of the UK’s higher educational institutions and so on; you can make it as poetic as you like, but staff concerns are far more pressing and long-term than those of current students.

It is essential to address the fact that different groups of students suffer differently. Taking a purely financial metric, there is a sliding scale. At the University of Edinburgh, Scottish students pay a maximum of £1,820 a year, English students pay roughly £9,500 a year and international students approximately £18,000.

Without a doubt, I believe the university management’s plans, permitting students to graduate without appropriate grading of their work, are exploiting international students the most.

A survey by The Tab found three-quarters of students supported the strikes earlier this year, but only around a quarter support the current boycott. In my opinion, the 50 per cent of students whose support has wavered since the boycott announcement do not understand solidarity.

If you jump ship as soon as the going gets tough, your professed support was nothing more than empty words.

Related stories:

Edinburgh Uni results day: Final years given ‘no decision’ degrees amid marking boycott

‘It’s beyond ridiculous’: Edinburgh final years react to their ‘no decision degrees’

• Edinburgh University urges students to ‘reach out’ with marking boycott worries, then removes comments