Issue 234 of The Saint, our last of the semester, covers the UCU strikes next week as its front-page story, and with just days before the strike action begins in St Andrews, it’s likely the story with which students and staff are most concerned.
For those in their third year or above, the UCU strikes may bring a strange feeling of déjà vu, as in February and March 2018, St Andrews, along with 60 other UK universities, saw 14 days of strike action. While the issue of whether strikes deserve support remains a divisive topic of debate, as seen in this issue’s Devil’s Advocate, it’s clear to anyone who was paying attention during the last set of St Andrews strikes that support distinctively wavered as the strikes continued.
While the Students’ Association announced their support of the strikes as they began in February, they Students’ Representative Council later called upon the UCU and University to refrain from further strike interruptions, likely due to The Saint’s investigation which found UCU emails that called an exam boycott their “unbeatable weapon.”
As it became clear to students in March of 2018, lecturers do deserve support, but not when they are using students as pawns in their negotiations and protests, as was clear when St Andrews members talked of “weaponising” exam strikes and their effect on students.
While most students undoubtedly support their lecturers and want the best for them in terms of reasonable pay and pensions, it is worth asking whether such significant impact on students is the best way to protest the current actions by the USS.
When the University consistently states that this is a national issue and not something that the University itself can resolve, it can lead students to question why these demonstrations are happening in St Andrews and not on a more national stage. What this different kind of protest would be is unclear, but the UCU should be deliberating if there are ways to strike that avoid impacting students yet still send a clear message to the University and national schemes.
Especially as these strikes come at an increased time of stress for students, with many lecturers failing to attend or reschedule the last week of classes and not meet with students during the majority of revision week, the toll that the strikes will take on students is more than meets the eye.
Many students struggling with mental health, especially during the revision period and in St Andrews with reduced daylight in this time of year, rely on classes as a reason to get out of bed in the morning and class discussions as a way to fully understand the material given, especially if they are struggling with a particular module.
Likewise, students are paying for a service, that service here being education, and just like other services, being denied what you paid for will lead to anger and even claims for compensation (as seen during the 2018 strikes).
It’s one thing for the University to be angry with the strikes, especially when staff feel there is more that could be done on their behalf with negotiations, but what are students meant to do other than stand with their lecturers? And if there is nothing students can do other than voice their support, why are they the ones being penalised most evidently by the strike action? Students are at University to attend class, receive good marks, and get a degree, and such shouldn’t be denied to them just because of negotiations and disagreements which do not involve them.