From 22 February, lecturers across the UK are set to strike against changes to the UK university pension scheme.
A poll conducted by Times Higher Education and Trendence of 1,556 undergraduate and postgraduate students found that student support for the strikes was evenly split, with 38.4 per cent of respondents in favour and 38.4 per cent opposed. The rest were undecided.
In a free text question asking respondents how they felt the strikes would affect them, the answers varied. Two comments capture polarised opinions. One student said that seeing their lecturers striking inspired them “to take collective action to achieve social goods. And inspiring me to bring tea and placards to the pickets to support them.” However, another student said: “I believe the strike is hugely unnecessary in various ways. It is incredibly detrimental to our learning and I believe that it is hugely selfish of the teachers.”
One of students’ biggest concerns was that they would miss out on teaching time and thus on topics that might be crucial to passing exams/assessed work. So far, so obvious.
However, some students went so far as to calculate how much of their £9,000+ fee would be wasted because of cancellations of lectures, as this student did: “I pay £9,000 a year for my education, meaning each lecture/seminar hour is worth approximately £55 of my time. I can’t afford to throw such money away and do not want a second-rate education because of continual strikes.”
These rates increased even more when international students weighed in on the amounts they would be losing. “As an international student I am paying lots of money to study in a ‘good’ university. There is no way they can repair my lost time and the lectures that I will miss,” said one student, while another said: “as an international student, our fees are really high and if we will miss nearly the half of the lectures for the second semester, it’s not that fair, is it? But at the same time I'm supporting the strike for my lecturers.”
That last comment perfectly encapsulates the opposing views held by students. On the one hand, many of the students supported their lecturers. On the other, some were pretty furious that the strikes would mean that they would be missing out on key contact hours that could potentially lead to a gap in their learning.
Some of the respondents also said that the situation should have been resolved before it got to a level where students would be impacted too or for staff to strike in a way that would bear the least disruption for the student body.
“There shouldn't have to be a strike. I support my tutors and what they are striking for, however this situation should not have gone this far. I will not have lectures over a 14-day period, in the final term of my master’s degree. Which is outrageous considering I pay £7,500 a year for the pleasure,” said one student.
Those students with already low numbers of contact hours were particularly concerned that losing out on the little teaching time that they do have could be detrimental to essay marks and exam results.
“I already only have four contact hours a week so I will be completely unsupervised for the rest of term. I will miss around eight seminars and probably won’t get essay feedback for a long time,” said one student.
Although only a small proportion of the respondents (3 per cent) were part-time students, there were a few comments about how they would be affected as they again have fewer contact hours, and also spend time travelling to their university so will have to rethink whether to make the effort to come in, as demonstrated by this respondent: “Classes have been cancelled. We will have to write exams without 80 per cent of our classes being conducted. Since this is a part-time course, several students have booked hotels, trains and flights to attend the class. All of this is now a waste.”
Another key concern was over the timing of the strikes, as they are taking place midway through the second term, which for some students is near to exams and coursework deadlines. The respondents believe that this could affect the grades they will get in their exams or will reduce the time they have with dissertation supervisors before they have to hand in final projects. A few students said that refunds or some kind of compensation should be offered in order to soften the blow: “It will mean I miss out on important seminar and lecture time, that prepares me for my exams at the end of this academic year. It worries me as this [is] a part of my degree. The huge amount of money that my family [paid] to [the] university will be wasted because of the strike [and it] means I will miss out on these lecture and seminar times. It’s not fair and I demand my money back. I paid for my education and if it is not delivered, that is legally and morally wrong.”
Some students have said that they will have to teach themselves the content they will miss, and hope that slides and lecture notes will be published online. However, some students believed this to be a poor substitute for teaching as it would not include additional comments and teaching from lecturers that would help them to understand the subject better.