University lecture halls are empty once again this morning – and students left to fend for themselves as they prepare for their summer exams. Yes, it’s another strike day on campus: the University and College Union (UCU) has announced 18 days of walkouts across February and March in a row over pay, working conditions and pensions. ‘We would not be calling this action if there was another way,’ insists the UCU. But is that really true?
As a student at the University of St Andrews, I’m set to miss dozens of hours of teaching over the next two months: 18 days without lectures, seminars and tutorials; 18 days without the recommendations of a lecturer about what to read, where to look and how to make sense of the demands of my degree.
These strikes amount to the most significant loss of contact hours in any UK-wide university strike ever. But the walkouts are not an isolated incident. Each year for the last four, the University and College Union (UCU) has organised strikes. And each year the strikes have achieved little. The impact of this, on top of the disruption caused by Covid-19 lockdowns, is immense for students. In a nation where not much seems to work right now, our universities are one of the last jewels going. Yet how long can this carry on when disruption has become not just the norm, but an expectation?
If you visit a university today, the disruption might be hard to notice at first. Without a train driver, the trains won’t run. Without a firefighter, buildings will burn down. But without a lecturer or tutor, well, universities can still largely function. In fact, students still study, research is still produced and degrees are still awarded.