As an international student paying £22k to sit through strikes, I deserve some money back

But hey, at least the university ‘regrets the disruption this causes to students’

As we begin another week of staff strikes, here’s a fun illustration of tuition fees at Edinburgh: for Scottish students – £1,820, English students – £9,250, and international students – £22,000.

I fall into that last group, the £22,000-a-year students. As an American, this is comparable to what I’d be paying back home, so for a school year, it’s not insane to me. And given that I actually receive the education I’m paying for, everyone’s happy right?

Well, as we approach the upcoming fifth week of uni staff strikes, nearly 25 per cent of the 22-week academic year, I’m not happy.

This isn’t even mentioning the frustration towards my complete lack of in-person classes, the still-taped off study spaces kept from students, and the laughably disappointing number of options for elective courses.

Clearly, my tuition isn’t be used to pay my lecturers and other uni staff members fair and steady wages – otherwise, we’d likely have school this week.

Not only do these employees not have wages to offset the cost-of-living crisis, inflation, or reflect their education, but they also don’t have the proper contracts to help sustain their lives. Unsurprisingly, I’ve learned a lot about work contracts in my few months here, so I feel smart enough to mention them now.

So, the question must be asked: Where the hell is my £22k a year going?

Not to my teachers, not to open study spaces, not to create adequate staff for elective courses – not anywhere that benefits me. And given that Edinburgh Uni is nearly 32 per cent international students, I’m definitely not alone in being robbed.

Earlier this week, I received an email about my unpaid tuition for this semester. After sending back quite a lengthy response detailing all my aforementioned frustrations – and ensuring I ended up on a Bad American watchlist – I was told that unfortunately, I would have to pay in full and file a complaint to try and get some money refunded.

Obviously, I won’t be having any money refunded, as they’ll see one American “-ize” instead of the British “-ise” (a quirky signal for big tuition payee) and immediately copy and paste the “Dear Miss Taylor, We Regret To Inform You” email. However, I make a request to anyone reading this that also feels robbed or simply loves sticking it to the man – tuition complaints can be filed here.

I will, apparently, pay my tuition, but not without plenty of screams.

Online learning at its finest

I’d like to reiterate my support for the staff as they embark on another week of striking

Staff deserve fair pay, workloads, and contracts, and I’m sorry the university isn’t managing our tuition in a way that does any of that.

I also understand there are plenty of other reasons for the strikes such as pay gaps, major pension cuts, and the aforementioned national cost-of-living crisis. I have yet to speak to another student that doesn’t agree with the reasons for the strikes, and while we would all love to get into the classroom and not miss out on school, ultimate fault here lies on the lack of support for school staff.

While I am excitedly planning the dramatic lines of my complaint: “because what is more British than unfairly taxing Americans? No tuition without fault admission!”, I’m also wishing the best for the university members of staff.

I’d love to see my tens of thousands of pounds be used to actually support the people who give me an education, and hopefully as Covid restrictions lift across the country, we can actually move towards full, in-person classes. A fever dream after being promised “hybrid” learning for so long.

I’ve yet to see the other side of this hybrid, but maybe that’s because my retinas are broken after years of staring at a computer screen.

For now, I’m doing my best to be optimistic both about the staff members being supported by the uni in their demands and a return to in-person learning. Hopefully, this works out for us all.

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “We know that this ongoing situation is causing disruption and concern for our students and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that the impact on learning and teaching is minimised, including through the assessment period.

“In addition, as in previous periods of industrial action, on 4th April we will be establishing a Learning Opportunity Fund from money not spent on staff salaries due to strikes. This fund will allow students to apply for support in order to pursue opportunities for additional learning or other activity that contributes to their educational experience.

“Alongside teaching, income from tuition fees also helps to fund and support a wide range of University services, student support and ongoing investment in our infrastructure.

“We are listening to concerns about pensions, workload and pay. Many of the issues raised are common across the higher education sector and are negotiated nationally. Where we can, we have implemented a number of initiatives to address aspects of employment conditions for our staff. We have been a Voluntary Living Wage employer since 2012 and we have not used zero-hour contracts since 2014.

“We have doubled investment in our annual staff reward scheme to recognise the contributions of more staff. We are committed to a fair offering for staff and offer many generous staff benefits, including excellent flexible working and family friendly policies.

“We are not complacent and are committed to securing a long-term outcome to these ongoing negotiations – one that is fair and affordable for both individuals and employers.”

Recommended related articles by this writer:

• Gordon Aikman has been occupied by students in support of staff strikes

• Gordon Aikman occupation: Edi Uni says it’s ‘working with the students to provide for their basic needs’

A look inside the ‘reclaimed’ Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre