‘Ask for a refund’: We spoke to lecturers on the picket lines at Newcastle University

‘Students are right to feel frustrated but should channel their frustration to the people in positions of power’

Strike action has again disrupted studies for students in Newcastle and all over the country in what’s been called the biggest strike in the history of higher education. Students have voiced their opinions on how they’ve been impacted by strikes and where they stand in terms of supporting lecturers and emotions have been running high among many.

With yesterday being the last day of planned UCU strike action in November, we went down to the picket lines to speak to lecturers directly on what they thought of your comments.

Speaking about the scale of strike impact on students, one lecturer told the Tab: “The majority of lecturers are wanting to ensure that student study and progress isn’t damaged, while still making a statement to management that they need to recruit, inspire and retain their staff. We are all concerned and most try not to disrupt students”.

When asked about students’ dissatisfaction with teaching quality in relation to their fees, they said: “I sympathise with students, especially with MSC students from overseas who are only here for one year and often don’t get to experience the benefits.

“Good conditions lead to good delivery and teaching. In the longer term, these improvements filter through”.

Commenting on the topic of dissatisfaction with fees, another lecturer said: “I think thats a fair argument to say they’re not getting value for money”.

Another said: “A lot of the money from fees doesn’t go into teaching. The students are getting less value for money because we are stretched and overworked, underpaid. These are not the kind of lecturers students want”.

Another lecturer added: “Not a single academic would want their students to pay tuition fees. We are all against the concept of students paying them”.

They went on to say: “I know where students are coming from but we really don’t want them to pay tuition fees, that’s not our decision and we’re not seeing that money ourselves either. So if students are feeling strongly about that, their target should be the Vice Chancellor. They should get in touch with him, they are the people in positions of power. We’re not.”

One lecturer went as far as instructing students to “Ask for a refund” when told of student disgruntlement over fees and said they would support them in doing so.

When asked for comment on students’ claims they have withdrawn support for lecturers who are striking due to the scale of disruption they’ve encountered, one lecturer said: “We fully sympathise with students. We share their frustration because we would all rather be in the classroom. We’re not delivering material not because we want to punish our students but because we can’t take any more degradation or undermining of our working conditions”.

Another Newcastle University lecturer said: “There are huge amounts of conversation behind the scenes about how we can effectively mitigate that impact on students. We want there to be an impact but we also want to make sure there’s a satisfying conclusion for students who are finishing their degrees as well.”

Another added: “Our working conditions are their learning conditions”.

Referring to students whose studies have been affected by the pandemic, one lecturer said: “I have enormous sympathy for what that generational cohort has endured. I can’t make the pandemic better but I can make this university better and that’s what I’m trying to do”.

Many lecturers agreed that better means of communication can be put in place to inform students of the reasons to why lecturers strike in an attempt to increase understanding.

“I’d very much like to have more of a platform to talk to students about why this is happening and why this is going on.”

Another added: “When I talk to my students I always tell them “I’ll tell you what is going on but I’m not telling you those things because I want you to support me”. In my experience, I haven’t had a single student not wanting to support me after these conversations. Most of the time, students are supportive once they know all the details”.

A different lecturer said: “I think lecturers go above and beyond for their students. We need fair pay, fair pensions; that’s what we’re fighting for. It’s a shame it affects the students but it’s the only weapon we have in our army”.

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