New Office for Students chair, Lord Wharton, sets out his priorities.
Image: Unsplash / Nathan Dumlao

Strike action would reinforce the narrative that students are an inconvenience

The University and College Union (UCU) have warned that they will strike yet again if face-to-face teaching resumes. This time round they are implying that students are plague rats.

Their previous reasons for striking included working conditions, workload, and pension cuts. This is now somewhat ironic considering growing complaints from students over the financial implications of online learning, and the harm it causes to productivity. We will now be going into the world with a limp education, staring into the abyss of economic gloom. The pandemic will pass, covid-19 will become endemic, but threatening strike action is morally bankrupt and flawed.

The reason for this round of strikes is that it would be ‘unsafe’. The only word to describe blended or online learning would be ‘lacklustre’. The risk with in-person seminars is minimal: they involve a small group of people, masked up in a large room, a tutor far away, and all in an environment with established rapid tests. What is so ‘unsafe’ here? What is more ‘unsafe’, physically and mentally, is keeping students in remote and mentally crippling online-only ‘education’ and making them pay for it whilst the country has been in effective lockdown since November.

The only word to describe blended or online learning would be ‘lacklustre’

The University of Reading concluded that face-to-face teaching presents minimal risk of transmission and students did not infect any staff, with staff transmission occurring off-campus. The Office for National Statistics even concluded that teachers are at less risk than the general public from dying from covid. Those tutors of mine who suffered with covid were infected by their household. It feels like students are sitting targets for the government and unions.

This threat also places the UCU in direct opposition to students’ expressed interests. The Autumn ASV saw the largest mandate ever against online-only education. Tory rebels have finally realised the predicament of the young, with Esther McVey saying “we genuinely seem to have forgotten about school children”, yet even now university students seem to have been forgotten in this great reawakening. We felt powerless when the government mandated online-only, and now the UCU has joined them. Gove and the teaching unions make odd bedfellows. One must wonder if they want a student revolt.

Gove and the teaching unions make odd bedfellows

As I write this, the Sunday Times reports that government insiders have admitted that the original rhetoric of a mid-February return for education was psychological manipulation. And even now that the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, they wish to push it back until after Easter. Even this is only a ‘maybe’. 

Those most supportive of lockdowns are the ones who do not have much to lose – they have stable lives and jobs. Students will emerge in a world devoid of opportunity. Having paid for the pleasure of 2020/21, we will be the ones who pay for the rebuild. We also got tarred with false blame throughout. Students are not plague rats, we are not a problem to be fixed, we should not be ignored – so why does no one speak up on our behalf? Strikes will only make everything exponentially worse.

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