Musings on the lecture strikes: who gets the short straw?

As students ready themselves for the upcoming UCU lecture strikes on 25 November, it is very easy to believe that we are receiving the short straw in all of this.

A large percentage of students here pay a significant amount for their tuition fees, while an even larger number pay a budget blowing price just to live here in order to receive this education. In the wake of these strikes God knows where our money is going.

Yet a crucial essence of these strikes asks that very question: where on Earth is our money going, and is it going to the right place?

Teachers and lecturers in the UK earn less than the average UK salary, whereas in countries which have a similar GDP to the UK (such as Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium) educators earn much higher than the average salary. Given the fact that education is compulsory in this country, meaning we have all been shaped by those who have taught us, this fact begs the question of complacency. Do we take our educators for granted?
Frankly, yes. And it seems that while most people sympathise with this sad truth, they are also reluctant to take action to combat it.

When similar demands were asked for in March 2018, promises of change were met by little reform. Lecturers are being pushed to their financial limits, and the Universities Superannuation Scheme changes have crossed a line that was already seen to be stomped over two years ago. While university staff are to pay £40,000 more into their pensions, they will receive up to £200,000 less in retirement, creating a loss of £240,000 in total. Therefore, instead of it being a question of where our money as students is going, the same question is being asked on the other side. And so our crossed metaphorical line is so far gone that it is now out of sight.

A key concern now, however, is why strike? Why let this affect more than one million students across the country when the last round of strikes did not really bring about the change wanted? This highlights another sad truth: the strikes that brought about little change two years ago were the most that our lecturers had been heard. While they were given empty promises, these very promises were a sign that they were being paid attention. Paradoxically, this is regarded as a privilege.

In all of this, we forget our lecturers are academics. They are not idiots. They are just tired, and questioning whether the moral perks of their job outweigh the day to day challenges they face. Four in ten new teachers quit within their first year. This statistic does not highlight the fact that not everyone can teach, but that not everyone can take on the strains and pressures of being a teacher.

While I realise that teachers at schools and lecturers at university are separate entities in their own rights, the burdens which they share highlight the wider institutional problem this country faces when it comes to esteeming our educators.

The phrase “those who can’t, teach” is outdated, and should be turned on its head to make sense in the political climate of today.

Preferably, we would not have to be losing out on our education; but in an ideal world, lecturers would not have to be striking in the first place. That is why for eight days I am willing to have the short straw when for the rest of the year it is our educators who suffer from stress and exhaustion; and not even for the sad compensation of money, but the passion they have for teaching which can only take them so far.

I would rather this happen than allow good lecturers and teachers alike to succumb to the pressures of their profession, and potentially change jobs or move to another country where their teaching is much more valued. This university plays host to some of the greatest academic minds in the world; to risk losing that would be much more devastating to this institution than an eight day strike.


Image of McEwan Hall muses: via Flickr, edited by Manvir Dobb

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The Student Newspaper 2016