The marking strike will disproportionately impact humanities students and I’m fed up

After the strikes, it feels like an utter slap in the face

With the recent announcement that 44 universities are set to boycott any marking and assessments of students’ work, it’s no secret that a lot of humanities students are feeling incredibly frustrated, and rightfully so.

The last two years have been an incredibly tumultuous experience for all university students, with the culmination of Covid and continued strikes by the UCU (the University and College Union) creating great challenges for us all.

However, the effects of this challenging time haven’t been felt by all students in equal ways. Instead, there appears to be an acutely subject-specific impact at play.

Across my three years at university as a third-year politics undergrad I have missed a total of 37 days of teaching due to strike action alone. In contrast, my flatmate, a third year neuroscience undergrad at the same uni, reported only missing two. The difference is astounding.

We understand the strikes’ necessity, but are suffering whilst senior university staff appear to be making few changes

Now, this is not to say that the strikes aren’t justified. Many humanities students have remained at the forefront of supporting university lecturers in their fight for better pay, pension rights and the diminishment of the gender and race pay gap. Very few have also crossed the picket line and we have listened to lecturers’ issues.

Obviously humanities subjects are, in general, much easier to be taught online. STEM students require access to labs, specific equipment and also tend to have much greater contact hours meaning that forced absence due to strike action would likely have more detrimental impacts on their learning and grades. It is for these reasons, amongst others, that science lecturers nationwide often choose to opt out of striking.

However, even though we know all of this, it still doesn’t stop our feelings of frustration when we are forced to miss out on the key teaching and the marking of work that we are not only entitled to, but also continue to get into significant debt for. It has been incredibly disappointing to have to forcibly sit at home whilst your STEM-based flatmates are still being taught when, ultimately, the same fees are leaving your bank account. A small part of you can’t help but question which subjects are being financially privileged.

Humanities students do not remain at all unscathed by strike action

The damaging impact strike action can have isn’t, contrary to popular belief, strictly limited to STEM subjects either. Significant gaps in teaching have severely stifled my third-year essay question options. Likewise, the number of UCU strikes in first year, directly followed by an abrupt cancellation of my teaching due to the pandemic, has also meant that my essential baseline knowledge is much weaker than required.

It’s also a myth that just because humanities students have less contact hours, they will be hardly impacted by strike action. Though I may not be required to be present in a lab using specialised equipment, losing the vital ability to contact my lecturers for specific queries or essay-based feedback for days or weeks at a time has proven to be extremely challenging.

I still support strike action, but question whether humanities students’ needs are ever truly a consideration

Being continually supportive of continued UCU strike action, whilst also respecting STEM subjects’ reluctance and inability to engage, the marking strike feels, to many students like me, like an utter slap in the face. Though it is undoubtedly important to ensure the issues lecturers are striking over are dealt with, something also needs to be done to rectify the disproportionate impacts strikes continue to create for humanities students who often struggle to get by.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• University marking boycott: Start date announced as graduations hang in the balance

• Three out of four students no longer support striking lecturers after marking boycott

• I support my striking lecturers but a marking boycott is a step too far