Strikes show that the institution is failing, and as students, we need to offer more to help

Issues such as staff pensions and pay affect students too

The teaching aspect of universities is only one element of a wider administrative structure. Priorities-wise, the wider institution doesn’t support the aims of its teaching staff, as the uni has its own agenda. Put simply, this bureaucratic machine disregards the needs of its educators. Why can’t students, in light of recent student successes with regards to symbolic social justice, offer practical support to their undervalued lecturers?

Increased numbers of students mean a greater financial opportunity for universities, which seem to favour expansion for profit, rather than improving the quality of teaching for the students that are already here. Because of this, teaching staff strike as their issues go ignored by the uni administration. 

While recent student activism has got results, what can students do to help with the strikes?

One of my lecturers described it to my class as follows: the only industrial action the departments can undertake is a withdrawal of labour – which heavily affects the student/teacher relationship due to the implications of not having key lectures at key moments in the semester.

Teachers are essentially between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they have students who are anxious for the exam season and eager to receive as much help as possible, and on the other, they have the university, seemingly unwilling to address the issue, as it deals with its own agenda.

What is happening? Why are teachers unhappy, when there isn’t necessarily a clear message from the university that their budget is deflated anyway? We all know that there is no shortage of salaries for higher-ups in universities. It’s clearly a priorities issue.

Because education is only a small cog in the bureaucratic machine, the voices of the teaching staff are ignored

These voices lack the proper representation and size to truly threaten the university’s chequebook, which in the case of Edinburgh, takes in additional non-Scottish students every year to increase revenue.

Fee-paying students could in this case have an advantage in admissions, as they don’t cost their own government. This is another problem in itself, but it is emblematic of Edinburgh Uni and its aims – favouring the institution’s quest for profit far too highly.

Students who engage in activism are well aware of institutional abuse of power and frequently point to universities’ pasts, and their roles in ideologies of racial discrimination, structural injustice, and gender discrimination. It’s no surprise that student activists targeted the icons of slavery at Bristol University – a clear message rejecting the contribution of slavery to the institution as an immoral one, based on an abuse of power. Many other universities in the UK have seen similar rejections of these icons and symbols of hatred too.

40 George Square showed that students could hold the institution to account for its role in historical abuse. Why is it, then, that they don’t see the pensions issue on a similar level?

The immense influence of even a semi-unified student body forces the university to make concessions, yet on the whole, students are hesitant to use this influence to help their lecturers.

40 George square is the perfect example of a priorities issue, or at least, a balancing issue between criticism of an oppressive symbol, and financial overhaul. However, it seems students are more interested in the imagery and aesthetic of social justice, ignoring the more immediate admin issues of staff pensions and pay, for more general symbolism.

Not to say that this isn’t helpful – there always has to be a public denunciation of the past, in order to move on. But, unless anything concrete changes now, the attempt is pointless as lecturers and tutors are still being forced to withdraw their labour on the off chance that they will be heard.

Recommended related articles by this writer:

• Breaking: Strike action at Edinburgh Uni and Heriot-Watt will take place in December

• Edi Uni spent over £230k on the Kings Spiegeltent, which was only open for 46 days

Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt students react to the UCU strikes