Given that some of the best and brightest young people go to Warwick, I was stunned by the short-sightedness and unabashed selfishness of some students on the topic of the teaching strikes on October 31. “We pay £9,000 a year to go to university,” they whined. “Missing these lectures could mean failing exams.”
Firstly, lecturers and tutors have made every effort to rearrange the classes that were cancelled, often at their own inconvenience, so let’s knock that myth on the head. This was not about staff members brandishing a proverbial double-fingered salute at those they teach.
From a purely Warwick-centric point of view, it is difficult to equate the lecturers’ pay freeze with Vice-Chancellor Nigel Thrift’s £42,000 rise in June 2013
This was a day where members of staff took a stance against injustice, specifically university employers’ refusal to grant lecturers a sufficient rise in pay. Their offer of a one percent pay rise across the sector is derisory and, according to veritable sources, represents a 13 percent cut in real terms since 2009. Although times are hard and few sectors’ wages are accelerating in line with inflation, lecturers are absorbing the hits far more than they should be.
From a purely Warwick-centric point of view, it is difficult to equate the lecturers’ pay freeze with Vice-Chancellor Nigel Thrift’s £42,000 rise in June 2013, taking his total salary to £316,000.
Alongside Thrift, the University has found the money to provide over 44 members of staff with a salary above £100,000. The fat cats rub their hands with glee whilst postgraduate tutors toil.
One postgraduate tutor admitted that she had to work three part-time jobs in order to fund research in her chosen field. The inherently draining nature of her life means less time to give students feedback, leading to poorer teaching – a pernicious cycle where everyone loses, apart from the contented elite.
This was not an excuse for a day off. Lecturers enjoy their job. They thrive on moulding young minds, not standing on the picket line on a cold autumn day. Students may complain about losing a couple of contact hours – in many cases, having them rearranged – but they should be taking part in a discussion which indisputably affects their futures.
Don’t they want better standards of teaching? Don’t they want tutors to be able to allocate more of their time to marking and feedback? Don’t they want their University to retain its status as a world-leading hub of research? Students do have a propensity to live in their own bubble and link everything back to them. Fair enough, you might argue: without students, there is no university. But without the staff, there would be no university either.
So to all the students who grumbled about the strike because it meant they missed seminars: it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
First of all, I want to emphasise that I am not against the strikes’ cause. I appreciate that lecturers are not getting the full pay they deserve.
The staff at Warwick put endless work and effort into providing students with the best teaching possible. While we cannot show our gratitude by increasing their salaries ourselves, we do show it in other ways. That does not mean that students should have felt pressurised into refusing to cross the picket line on Thursday.
I had already lost a day’s contact time and was not in the position to take that kind of a stand.
I understand that it is difficult for staff action to not affect students, yet it ultimately punished the wrong people. Some students felt intimidated by demonstrators dissuading them from attending lectures and seminars that were running.
Others were apparently stopped in their cars while driving onto campus. I myself was confronted about entering the library and using University facilities.
I am sorry if I sound selfish, but I had already lost a day’s contact time and was not in the position to take that kind of a stand. Some may say one day is not going to make any difference, though for finalists the clock is already ticking. University terms are incredibly short. The contact time I get is even shorter.
Students too are feeling hard done-by. Let us remember that two thirds of undergraduates are now paying £9,000 a year. I am an Arts student with nine hours of contact time a week, and this went down to six last week. Surely it is understandable that students paying so much for their education were feeling slightly cheated? I am not demanding a refund of my money. I do however value the outstanding quality of the teaching I receive.
My usage of university facilities on Thursday did not mean I was against the staff strikes. Lecturers more than anyone would have wanted action to disadvantage the students as little as possible. They were not, after all, striking against the students.
Moreover, we were reassured that the strikes would cause ‘minimal disruption’. Personally, I think students were not at fault for getting on to the best of their abilities during the disruption. We were not crying like spoilt children over our lost contact hours.
We were just trying to make up for it. I do not think that the staff intended us to regard the strikes as an excuse to spend the whole day hung-over in bed blissfully content for once by inconvenient seminars.
Whether you regarded the strikes as an annoyance, an injustice or a great reason to have gone to Pop the night before, all students had a right to continue with their daily university life – with or without using university facilities.
Header Image courtesyof zettelstelle / Twitter