In case you are not aware university lecturers up and down the country are going on strike from February 22nd, with industrial action lasting for the next two weeks. As ever with strikes of this nature, the dispute is over pensions as proposed changes to lecturers retirement packages will leave them £10,000 worse off per year. The strike will affect over 60 universities up and down Britain, including here at Leicester, so the natural question is that given how much disruption this will cause to fee-paying students, should university lecturers go on strike?
On the face of things the fact that lecturers will lose over £200,000 in total from their pensions seems outrageous and considering this alone it is really no surprise that academics through out the country want to go out on strike. Lecturers do incredibly important work, not just in teaching but especially in the research field and should not lose a substantial amount of their pension in cost cutting measures. Indeed the National Union of Students have endorsed strike action too with President Shakira Martin backing the lecturer’s union in strike action. While that is all well and good there is one group of people who also need to be considered: students themselves.
Now while it is easy to say that you’d ideally like your 9am Thursday tutorial cancelled as you haven’t done the reading and are massively hungover, going to university is now a very expensive business. We all pay over £9,000 a year for higher education, and yes while we do come out of the experience with that all important degree (hopefully) a student will now have at least £27,000 worth of debt hanging over them. So factoring in the financial cost is it really justified for lectures to treat students like this and make an already expensive education seem more pricey?
Some students across the country have even gone as far as to demand compensation for the missed time these strikes are going to cause. There’s a point there too as students are now effectively customers, and as a customer if you paid for something and, through no fault of your own, it stops working, you would want a refund. But wiill students get a refund? Almost certainly not but it could be argued that tuition fees continuing to rise is as unacceptable as the proposed cuts to the pensions of academics.
There is the education side of things to consider too. Again it easy to take the stance of ‘could do with some more time off anyway’ but my degree is currently only nine contact hours a week as it stands so to be paying £9,000 a year to have even fewer than that and therefore have a lesser chance of preforming well in assessments is infuriating. Plus for a course where you really do have to put the hours in, such as medicine and engineering, how much crucial time will be missed that could negatively affect you final degree score?
So am I in favour of these strikes? In principle, yes. Lecturers do important work and if I was in there position, facing being £10,000 less well off per year after retiring, I probably would consider striking. However this strike, rather like the unnecessarily expensive tuition fees this country has, is indicative of the university system as a whole: students are never put first. Higher education in the UK is simply is not overly concerned with the students within it, and that is something that needs to change.