‘It’s made the first week anxious and perplexing’: Freshers’ opinions on the recent strikes

‘I understand why the staff are striking, but does it make things better for students? No.’

This week, committees and societies took down their tents and stands, freshers and older students changed from their party clothes to jumpers, and sore heads from the night before turned into sore heads from constantly writing and typing notes.

With the end of the Freshers’ Week celebrations and parties, the strikes that began in 2018 continued.

Unite, UCU, and UNISON announced strike dates from 13th September until 28th September. With new students not yet having experienced the strikes, I thought it would be beneficial to ask how industrial action affected this year’s freshers and what they think about strikes considering the fact that it has been quite challenging to attend the lectures.

This week, there will be strikes happening again. Initially, the industrial action was supposed to start on 26th, 27th, and 28th September. However, students received an email from the university’s Internal Communications department which said: “The UCU has locally voted to stand down two of their three striking dates.” As a result, the strikes scheduled for September 26th and 28th were cancelled, meaning that the industrial action for this week will only take place on Wednesday. 

These are freshers’ comments and impressions of everything that happened over the past week and here are some of them:

“I support the strikes and believe that they are critical to making a difference for the community’s educators. On the other hand, they’ve made the first week of school for newcomers a little anxious and perplexing, but I understand that things will settle down eventually.”

“I feel like the strikes disoriented me quite a bit because I felt overwhelmed about going back to school as an international student, and the strikes weren’t helpful because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. After all, some teachers were striking and others weren’t, so it was puzzling.

“As an international student, it is highly troubling because I pay more than £20,000 for this education and nearly all of my lectures were called off last week. Not just the lectures, but also other university services such as the gym that has been frequently closed. I understand why the staff is striking, but does it make things better for students? No.”

As previously stated, university staff in the UK have gone on strike several times in recent years, with strikes being much more apparent since 2018. One of the three main reasons for such action is disagreements over changes to university staff pension schemes. Universities and pension trustees proposed changes to the USS, such as reducing guaranteed pension benefits, which sparked protests and strike actions by staff members insecure about their retirement funds.

Another reason for striking lies in university employees, including lecturers and support personnel, demanding better pay and working conditions. Many claim that their pay has not kept up with inflation and that they are facing a real-terms pay cut.

University employees on strike have also expressed concerns about their working conditions. This includes issues such as job security, workload, and academic labor casualization. Precarious employment, with many employees on temporary contracts, has been a major source of alarm.

“Naturally, I support the strike action because I know that staff’s wages are unlivable, especially given the cost of living crisis and inflation. A week or two of disrupted lectures won’t make a difference to me.”

“I support university staff, but I wish there was another way to resolve this situation without leaving students confused and anxious about what will happen with their work and their markings this semester because they’re striking in the first weeks already.”

The other shorter responses we received, as well as those mentioned earlier, share an established pattern. Anxiety and uncertainty about continuing educational activities.

On a brighter note, even the most frustrated first-year students we interviewed sympathized with lecturers and university staff and did not blame them for the chaos that was presently going on.

In a university-wide email, Glasgow University told students: “If any teaching is disrupted, the university will make sure you are not assessed on any material that has not been taught.

“We appreciate the anxiety and inconvenience these strikes may be causing, and we are doing everything we can to mitigate against the impacts. There is more information about the current industrial action on our student industrial action webpages.

We also recognise this may cause anxiety to some, and we have a range of support services available including a 24-hour Counselling and Advice Line to provide guidance and help.”

The University of Glasgow has been contacted for comment.

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