As a student studying at the University of Kent, I have come to question, ‘Why is there so much support for the striking university lecturers?’ Many important journalists, and dare I say it, students, have offered their support to lecturers. These students need to rethink their offering of support.
University staff are striking in response to the recent cutting of their pensions by approximately 40% from the University Superannuation Scheme (USS). OK, OK. University lecturers are frustrated. The USS are no doubt to blame for the resulting strikes because their decision to cut pensions was utterly ridiculous, considering they had a clear economic capability to avoid these cuts. In fact, the USS’s own financial assets have grown by 12% a year for the last five years, while it has a record number of staff paying into the scheme. Evidently, the USS did not need to cut academics’ pensions, and are consequently responsible for creating the precedence for the strikes to take place in the first place. While there is ‘no justification for this pension attack’, as a journalist for the Guardian has acknowledged, please enlighten me: what justification is there for the strikers to attack students?
From my own experience at university, there has been an enormous amount of disruption from the strikes. One week, I did not have a single lecture or seminar, and for four weeks I consistently had lectures and seminars cancelled. I offer my apologies if I seem like a whinging child, but must I remind lecturers that all undergraduates in England pay tuition fees of £9,250 a year? Of course not. That is what makes it so absurd! Staff are fully aware of this, as many have made clear in their attempts to get myself and other students to pledge our full support to…well…their robbing of our money and education. Insulting. With almost 2500 students at the University of Kent having already signed a petition demanding compensation in response to the strikes, it is clear that many other students feel the same way. I should emphasise that they are ‘strikes’, considering the majority of lecturers have tried to soften the blow of their actions by referring to them as ‘industrial action’. This in itself tells you everything you need to know: even the lecturers who are striking know their actions are morally wrong. Additionally, some lecturers have been striking on some weeks, and not on others. It could not be more obvious that strikers are regretful of their actions.
Many lecturers will argue that they are not to blame for the strikes. Instead, they will blame the USS for being responsible for the pension cuts. Give us all a break. When you do not get your own way, you cannot go whining about it by refusing to do the very thing that keeps the education system from operating: teaching. I bet you are relieved that my complaints are just words. If us students worked upon the same principles as the lecturers, we would all be refusing to do any work because of the fact that lecturers are stealing our money and education. Despite the wrongdoings of the USS, it does not make the actions of scholars any more justifiable. By striking, they are creating the same discontent amongst students as they are experiencing themselves. Considering they understand these frustrations of abandonment themselves, they should know better.
Meanwhile, lecturers will claim they have been forced to strike because there are no other effective ways to influence the USS to reduce the pension cuts. While the situation for lecturers is a difficult one, why can they not protest at times that do not interrupt the learning of students? Weekends, for instance? Many lecturers clearly feel this would not be enough, but if the best part of over 205,000 academic staff in the UK (according to HESA’s 2016/2017 term statistics) turned up to protest, the USS would inevitably reconsider its decision to cut pensions so heavily. This act would demonstrate the deep anguish of academic staff towards the cuts just as much as striking. Only, one action robs students of their education and money in 64 universities across the UK, while the other does not.