It seems like it’s becoming an annual tradition that the VPE must publish a blog in support of a strike. I’d like to think that as this is a discussion which we have every year, and which, whether by referendum or vote in Guild Council, students always vote to support the strike, it’s something that I wouldn’t have to do this year. However, it has become clear that a number of people have been questioning why students should support a strike if it means they miss a lecture or two. So I’d thought I’d outline a few of the myriad of reasons why students should be supporting this strike and joining staff on the picket lines tomorrow and the rally at the East Gate at 12pm:
1) Empowered and well paid staff improves the quality of our education
It makes sense. How much better is a lecture when the staff member has had the time to prepare well for it and is enthusiastic and upbeat? The quality of education we receive is tied up with the delivery of it by staff. If lecturers are feeling stressed and undervalued, worrying about time and money, the quality of education they deliver is bound to suffer. One day of missed lectures is a fair trade off in my mind for years of better, higher quality ones.
2) Our voice in the university is stronger if we work together
Right now, the amount of power that your average academic, support staff or students has in decisions of the university is effectively zero. We don’t have democracy. Occasionally a sabb will sit on a committee, although we will be hugely outnumbered by management. Elected academics sit on senate although this acts as a rubber stamping body for the most part, and is filled by people appointed by the Vice Chancellor himself. The most important decision making body in my mind is the University Executive Board, where there is no representation for students, academics who aren’t management, or support staff. Basically, they’re completely unaccountable and almost everyone within the university has little say in it.
However, a university cannot function without staff and students. The power that we have derives from the impact when we refuse to play the management’s game. This makes them listen to us. A strike is a way to do this, as is students supporting this action by joining them on the picket line. When management send out emails blaming staff for the strike, instead of acknowledging that it is their decisions that have led them to strike, this is classic “divide and conquer” tactics. The demands of students or staff are much easier to brush aside when the two groups are pitted against one another. We must realise that both of us occupy a position in the university where we have no say or control, and that attacks, whether towards staff or students, are coming from management and that they are the ones towards which we should be directing our anger.
Cancelling contact hours and pickets encouraging people not to come onto campus may be seen as unnecessarily disruptive by some who just want to get on with their education. Given the changes currently going on in Higher Education and the deteriorating positions of students and staff I think it is only natural that people feel forced to take these kinds of disruptive action. We need a higher education system that puts the interests of staff, students and the public ahead of the interests of the government and senior managers.
3) Students are often also staff
Many of our students are employed by the university, either in support staff roles, or, especially in the case of PhD students, as academic/academic related staff. They are often on low paid and precarious contracts with poor conditions. Many of them take on work to help meet the cost of studying here. This affects them massively, and the wins that the strike could bring should improve their lives and education.
4) More money spent on staff = more money spent on our education
Students pay an astronomical amount to study here. The university spends so much money on things which are far less related to our education than than the staff who deliver it, like on marketing, overseas recruitment centres and the extortionate pay of our Vice-Chancellor and his chauffeur driven jaguars. The university spending more money on staff should definitely be encouraged as this has a real tangible impact on our education.
5) Staff have stood by us in our battles over fees and cuts, it’s our turn to stand by them
Staff have continually supported students when we have faces detrimental changes to our education. They marched with us against £9,000 fees, have policy calling for free education for all and even right now are opposing the stringent monitoring of international students. It would be easy for them to say that these issues don’t affect them greatly, but they care about students and recognise the importance of standing up for us and with us. The very least we can do is support them in their battle for fair pay. Especially if we want their support in future campaigns, such as the selling off of the student loan book.
6) We’re not going to be students forever. When we graduate, we’ll want jobs with good pay and conditions.
One day we’ll be workers, if we’re not already. When that happens, we’ll want our jobs to be well paid. We’ll want to feel valued, to be able to support our families, to be free from stress and harassment. Personally, I think we have a moral obligations regardless of this to ask that the institution that we pay money into treats its staff well regardless of our own interests. But even if you want to look at this in a self-interested way, it is clearly to our benefit to be ensuring that jobs which we might one day enter into have the conditions and pay that we would like to see for ourselves.
So instead of treating tomorrow like any other day, recognise that this is our opportunity to demand so much more from the university for our staff, our education and ultimately ourselves. Don’t play the management’s game and let them play students and staff off against one another: join your lecturers on the picket lines and come to the rally at 12pm at the East Gate.