The typical hustle and bustle of the university was replaced by a strange stillness today. Some students can still be seen making their way across campus, but George Square appears more desolate than normal. Although this might sound unusual midway through the semester – a time when students are rushing from one lecture to another and powering through midterm assessments- it is a common trend on strike days.
University staff strikes have been occurring all over the United Kingdom, with the participation of 70,000 staff members from 150 institutions. Industrial action is scheduled to take place for 18 days over the period of February to March 2023. Students have been impacted on various levels, with some schedules left unchanged whilst others experiencing heavy disruptions.
One student told The Student that;
“Every year my university experience has been impacted by strikes and it does get very frustrating. Despite this I don’t disagree with the strikes. If anything, I sympathize with the staff.”
According to the University & College Union (UCU), staff are striking over low pay, job insecurity, inadequate support over workload and pay gap inequalities amongst genders, race, and disabilities. The UCU claims that they recognize the impact industrial action has on students but also emphasizes that strikes are necessary to defend and invest in the quality of education and research delivered. They argue that it is really the students who are most affected by the management’s poor decisions.
Another student added; “The university is to be blamed unequivocally. I don’t think there’s any world where you can blame educational professionals for striking. Industrial action is a key component of any functioning democracy, and if strikes continue for this length of time, then blame for the disruption should be laid at the feet of the institution. The solution to all of this is to simply pay staff more. And if there’s not enough money to do that, they should cut pay to senior management, not the educators.
As someone with a parent who is a teacher, I completely agree that staff should be paid more. Especially considering the amount of work, time, and effort they give in comparison to what they get paid. The same goes with any sector or public service that’s striking at the moment.”
When asked about the university’s response to the strikes, another student stated that they feel as if management cares little at all about their staff and students. “Every time more strikes are announced, it is the same neutral, detached messages from the university. It doesn’t impact them [senior management], especially when you see how much money they spend on events for fully employed staff, as seen from my experience working with the university.”
The general mood suggests that a large proportion of the student body are frustrated with the strikes and the disruption to their university experience – one that many students have paid for. However, it seems that this frustration is even more so directed at the University’s senior management and their unwillingness to make changes towards staff treatment. Strikes are therefore interpreted by many students as painful and costly, yet there is still an understanding that it is a necessary and last-resort option for staff to confront these injustices.
“[Strikes] seem to be having little impact on the University’s actions. Personally, though that isn’t a reason to stop as all other actions potentially won’t work either. It worries me more that I am paying so much to be at a university where I’m missing out not because of my own personal decisions but because of what I see as the university and government’s inability to treat staff fairly.”
“Living in uncertain economic times, the last thing anyone needs right now is someone tampering with retirement funds. History has shown us time and time again that the best and most effective way to right a wrong towards them is collective action through striking. Additionally, I think students should be reimbursed for the disruptions as well. We insist in this country in treating higher education as a commodity so if you’re going to treat it like this, students should be entitled to a refund. We’re consumers, we’ve paid for a service, and it hasn’t been provided on the strike days. If the university can afford to pay Vice Chancellor Peter Mathieson hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in salary, then they can also afford to not cut staff pensions or refund students.”
As the University continues to refrain from cooperating, strikes are to go on and become a “normal” event in the university calendar. However, it does beckon the question as to what extent senior management is willing to stand by as staff and student resentment continues to grow deeper.