CLASH OF COMMENT: Should students support their striking lecturers?

Credit: Josiah Mortimer

YES – Ed Smith
I recently watched Made in Dagenham. For those who are not familiar, it is a film centred on the causes, impacts, and success, of the 1968 sewing machinists’ strike at the Ford factory in Dagenham. The strikers – who were predominantly female – ultimately achieved the equal pay and improved working conditions they sought through government policy, despite under-going unjust pressure and angst from the male manufacturing workers and employers. The point I am getting at is that anyone on strike should be supported if they are facing unjust discrimination, which includes a sharp reduction in their pensions.

The issue of the upcoming lecturer strikes is highly contentious, which has led one university student to set up a petition seeking compensation from the strike action because of contact time lost. Nevertheless, regardless of claims for compensation, university lecturers should be supported for the strike indefinitely, for one key reason: the model that was used for stress testing the USS Pension Scheme is based on the false assumption that all university lecturers will retire effective immediately.

Obviously, this then leads to the question as to why Universities UK (UUK) would want to cut around £10000 per lecturer from the pension fund? I am unsure of the answer to this, but one can assume that it is an attempt to cut costs and save money, so it is good to know that austerity, in its most basic form, is still living and breathing. I am being sarcastic, obviously.

I personally think that what is particularly comical about the use of the flawed stress test model. Is the attempt to fool the very people they rely on to give expert advice. They are trying to fool the experts. I don’t know about you, but this seems very futile, particularly as many of the lecturers who are having their pensions cut teach and conduct re-search about the various models that can be used to, for example, in-crease economic productivity. Thus, the attempt to deceive the experts is humiliating for the University, who are supporting the cuts to the pension fund. It shows that despite all the boasts or statistics about how incredible York is as an institution, they have the audacity to degrade their own staff and believe that they would take the results at face value and accept the massive cuts.

For that reason alone, it is worth supporting the lecturers. Furthermore, they should be supported be-cause their world-leading academic status deserves the financial and economic backing that one would expect in a society that favours excel-lent academic qualifications.

Lastly, the lecturers’ strike should be supported because they are incredibly and systematically undervalued by many areas of society who see them as lazy, docile individuals that have an easy life with very good job security, and who are perceived to be already overpaid. However, this does not reflect reality as lecturers have had one pay rise of one per cent in the past seven years, which is a wage cut of 15 per cent in real terms. On a personal level, they are the most helpful, resourceful people I have ever met. They are willing to support you as a student or graduate in any way they can, whether it be in changing seminar groups or securing an ideal job position, which will start your career down the path that you desire.

 

NO- Jatin Mapara
University has changed. There was a time when university was a centre for pure academic learning, leftist thinking and political activism. But since the increase in tuition fees in 2012 this has all changed. A once free education that now costs us a pricey £9000 a year has led many, including myself, to see university as an investment as opposed to an experience. I am unapologetic about my desire to see the three years I will spend at university as a means to a well paying job.

So what does this have to do with the upcoming strike? I’m a third year who studies History. The upcoming strikes essentially cripple the last part of my studies as many key deadlines approach in third term. Strikes restrict my access to academic staff and as a result, to education that will be influential in my final push for a strong 2:1. With many of my friends needing to do well in their degrees for reasons varying from securing a graduate job or needing a minimum grade for postgraduate studies; there are real concerns that the student body will be heavily affected by this untimely strike.

The question many of you will probably be wondering is ‘so what?’ What right does this middle class humanities student have to throw a strop about a group of hard-working academics striking about their pensions?

Well, frankly, none. Pension schemes are a sore topic for many and something that needs to be fixed. It would be foolish for anyone to suggest that the pensions scheme that academics have signed up for is perfect. The major provider of academic pensions, Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), might be facing a deficit of £17.5bn which is likely to lead to increased working ages and smaller pension for many academics. This is a rather sore medicine for contributors to swallow and it is apparent that their concerns are entirely justified.

If this is all true, why shouldn’t students support academic staff? The traditional strike will see a worker withhold their labour to affect the revenues of their employer. However, as we have already paid for our education, the University will not be suffering any loss in revenue. This means that by striking staff, they are doing nothing but affecting the ability of you and I to get the best grade possible, and as a result putting us at a disadvantage when it comes to, hopefully, graduating. This strike is equivalent to expressing your anger at your neighbour by punching your postman.

So while academics are completely justified in their aim for a proper pension, I believe they are protesting in the wrong way. Many of us will be servicing a debt from going to university for the next thirty years of our lives, meaning we can and should expect every possible chance to get the best degree possible.

A strike action now does nothing but hit students disproportionately and hinder our ability to be competitive in the job market following graduation. And so, if you’re asking me whether I, as a student, should support academic staff in their strike which, while justified, affects myself as a student but no one else, I believe the answer is very simple. No, we should not.

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