‘We shouldn’t be caught in the crossfires’: We spoke to Exeter students about the strikes

‘I’m losing 43 hours of learning’

With Exeter staff striking for three days this week and a further three next week, Exeter students are somewhat divided over whether they support the strikes.  A reported 63 per cent of students support the strikes, despite being worried about their academic performance and missed contact time. The Tab Exeter asked Exeter students what they really thought about the strikes, and how they’re going to be affected.

Lecturers are campaigning for a meaningful pay rise to ease the cost of living crisis, the ending of use of insecure contracts, and are demanding unis revoke cuts to pensions and restore benefits. One third of higher education staff are paid by the hour or have no permanent contracts.

In case you didn’t know, lecturers only get paid for 20 minutes of marking time (so however many weeks you spend on your 3,000-word essay, they must read, mark and leave feedback within 20 minutes). In the next five years, 60 per cent of UK academics are set to quit. Also, staff do not get paid for the hours they strike – a Tab investigation this summer found Russell Group unis saved £11million in withheld pay whilst lecturers were on strike last university year.

Many Exeter students are expressing sympathy towards the staff and understand their reasons for striking, however this sympathy was outweighed by the disruption and monumental impact this will have on their academic experience and performance. Here’s what a few had to say:

Third year, German

“My learning has been affected irreparably by the strikes. I think it applies specifically to language students as we need to study regularly with a qualified teacher, we can’t teach this stuff to ourselves for 18 lectures worth.”

“I’m sceptical. Of course, I do understand the reasons but from my perspective, the university already has my money. Yeah, they can give me £300 for missing some lectures but 43 hours is irreplaceable. I’m pessimistic that they feel they can just last out the 18 days because they already have this money, and they’ll make more money by not paying the lecturers, and then nothing will change and we will have been badly impacted.”

Second year, psychology

“Last term, the strikes weren’t too bad, but this term it’s going to be a lot worse. I know that pensions have been seriously impacted by about 30 per cent. I think because my lecturer spoke to our class last term to explain why she was striking. Hearing it straight from them I do sympathise and agree with the principles, I just don’t think we should be caught in the crossfires.”

Third year, French and German

“Having a year of Covid and then being abroad last year this feels like my first full year here but it keeps being interrupted. I have definitely missed out but I don’t blame my lecturers. My dad is a lecturer, so I completely respect the reasoning behind it. Things definitely need to change.”

Master’s student

“I’m in complete support of the strikes. I think the impact on future education would be so much worse. One day we could be on the other side of it so not just in solidarity but selfishly, this is not the message we should send that we will tolerate being treated like this by employers in our future.”

Third year, classical studies

“I was affected by the strikes last term, but this term I don’t think any of my lecturers are striking because they haven’t said anything but I know they’re not meant to say if they are or not so I have no idea at the moment.”

“I think that the strikes are beneficial for the rights of University staff and they have the potential to better our education if they are paid better. I know they don’t get paid enough for the amount of work they do which means they cannot give the quality of work they want to. University funding definitely needs to be redirected and redistributed.”

Third year, biology

“Last term my learning was, but my lecturer recorded the content anyway we just had to double up the next week which was annoying. This time round they haven’t yet, but they will later on in March. I am for the strikes but I do think 18 days is excessive. Although, I would rather the 18 days now than the marking strike in June because that would affect me a lot more.”

They added: “My lecturers have told me very little – they haven’t spoken to us about it, I feel if they spoke to us on a personal level a lot more students would get on board and feel less in the dark about the whole thing.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

The UCU has released all strike dates for Exeter University

University staff set to strike for 18 days between February and March

This is not a drill: Joe from this year’s The Apprentice went to Exeter and was a rugby boy