‘We could potentially fail’: London students on the academic impact of strikes
Many are calling to be refunded for a continuously disrupted education
Most London unis have been hit by three waves of strikes this year, with some enduring more because of individual disputes.
But behind the picket lines and heated debates on workplace issues, students are stumbling through modules while battling Covid disruptions and loosing what some estimated as an entire month of teaching due to strikes this year.
The London Tab spoke to some students to find out how their studies have been impacted by the strikes.
Not too far from failing
For Isabelle, a third-year English and Media student at Goldsmiths, the three rounds of strikes this year has really had a negative impact on her grades.
Having only received six out of the 11 sessions for a creative writing module that accounts for a quarter of her grade this year, she told us that she is “trying to produce a 10,000 portfolio completely blind.”
She thought that marking schemes might be changed so students wouldn’t be disadvantaged by disruptions out of their control, but apparently that is not the case. She revealed that tutors aren’t even trying to hide the prospect of failing due to the disruptions: “My personal tutor, who is a creative writing convener by the way, has been amazing in trying to support throughout this. But ultimately all she can offer us is talking through our frustrations.
“It was on a call with her that she said point blank we could potentially fail if our module leader continued to adhere to the strike.”
Another professor had also told her that strikes will indeed affect grades and her ability to complete assignments.
“I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to repeatedly be told that,” she said.
Responding to her concerns, a spokesperson for Goldsmiths told The London Tab: “We recognise that this is a worrying time for our students who are concerned about the impact this extended period of industrial action may have on their learning outcomes.
“At the moment we are still reviewing the levels of lost learning. Over the next few weeks we will be working closely with individual departments to develop an approach to assessments that remains fair.
“We are also continuing to meet with the unions to try and find a shared way forward.”
What did we pay for?
An anonymous LSE student is in a similar situation with Isabelle: “The strikes have not directly affected my grades but they have negatively affected my learning experience.
“Not having lectures and seminars to discuss the readings has made it much harder for me to wrap my head around the course material. Even though we are not assessed based on the material we missed out on in the strike, the fact that I missed out on important parts of my programme is bothering me,” they said.
When asked about whether they were offered any support, the LSE student said: “professors have good reason to strike and I therefore did not expect them to offer academic support, as this defeats the purpose of striking.
“However, given how much we have already missed out on, I expected the uni to make a much greater effort to resolve the issues to guarantee students the education they have paid for.”
Another Development Studies student at LSE echoed this: “Overall I am entirely in support of the strike and its values – and I am sourly disappointed that the LSE is failing not only its teaching staff by refusing to engage with them in a cooperative manner, but equally failing its students by making the strike continue longer than necessary and by failing to provide any coherent response to the student body nor any academic or financial support.”
As a master’s student whose programme only lasts a year, they also think the strikes decreased the value for the tuition alongside learning experiences.
“Other master’s students and I in the Development department are doing a fee strike for the remainder of our unpaid fees. Many students who had payed fully prior are voicing their support and anger at the disruption of our teaching quality and failure to reimburse us as well.
“Frustration and disappointment is most rife for international students who have moved countries and pay high fees in the expectation that the LSE would provide world-leading education and direction – a promise currently put into question,” they said.
In response, a spokesperson for LSE told The London Tab: “One of the biggest challenges for LSE within this strike action is the national nature of the topics under discussion.
“Pay and pensions are negotiated at a national level, and the national pay bargaining process alone involves 146 institutions across the UK. While we are actively engaging with representative bodies on a national level and will continue to do so, we are not able to take immediate decisions to bring these matters to a close as an individual higher education institution.
“We understand that our students may have some concerns about how this could impact their studies and, to support our community throughout this time, we are providing comprehensive information, resources and guidance,” they said.
They also urged students to find more information about the supports available here.
Losing the motivation
But LSE students aren’t the only ones feeling robbed of their money. An English student at QMUL said to us: “I didn’t get a full first year, second year was online, and I’ve just had a two-week strike in my final year.
“Uni is very much a myth and I want my money back!”
This wasn’t at all what they expected uni to be like: “I was so excited to be going to university for the first time, [being the] only one in my family to do it. For the first few months I was loving the experience, commuting from home to my uni in London, spending the day with my friends and going out at night.
“Then they announced a six-week strike, and we were all like, ‘what the hell is this?’ But we went on without saying anything, feeling excited to get back after the strikes started finishing. Only to be hit by the coronavirus straight after.”
Even though their academics weren’t impacted much (“I’ve managed to maintain 2:1 and firsts throughout”), they were “less motivated to study and do well.
“When you lose that rhythm of going to your lectures and seminars on time, and studying straight after for a solid three hours plus, you find it hard to pick it back up again.
“At some point it gets too much and you’re just like, ‘do I even care anymore?’
“Really and truly, I have had a good time but I hate it as well and want to leave soo fast!” they told us.
A QMUL spokesperson responded: “We are extremely disappointed to be facing industrial action once again.
“We are very concerned for our students who have already faced disruption as a result of the pandemic and previous sector-wide industrial action by staff in 2018, 2019 and 2020. We have been clear from the outset that our first priority as a university is to protect our students’ education and experience above all other activities which are carried out.
“When staff are not physically striking, we are asking them to prioritise all educational activities, and to stop other activities, so that our students are fully supported. So far, industrial action has been focused on a very small number of areas within the university and all planned educational activities affected by industrial action have currently been made up or scheduled to be made up.”
Even though some student did argue to us that “it’s not like the strike will massively ‘devalue’ our degrees,” most students we spoke to feel frustrated that their education and money are caught in the middle of something they did not have in mind when clicking that UCAS accept button.
As waves of strikes keep coming with negotiations seemingly going nowhere, we can only hope that everyone is offered the academic and emotional support they need to get through these disruptions.
If you are experiencing stress or need academic support, your department or the student support and wellbeing team at your uni should be able to help. If not, other resources include Anxiety UK and Mind.