‘Overpaid, virtue signalling and complaining as usual’: York students react to strikes

59 per cent of York students are not in support of the strikes

With York staff set to strike three days this week, students at the University of York have mixed opinions on the industrial action.

In a poll on The York Tab Instagram, 41 per cent of students said they support the strikes, leaving 59 per cent of students unhappy with the decision to strike.

Following the recent announcement from UCU that 58 universities will be hit with strike action from December 1st-3rd, York included, we spoke to students to find out their opinion on the upcoming strikes, and here is what they had to say:

Some students suggest that although they feel sympathy towards the striking staff, they cannot support the strikes this year due to the added disruption to their studies:

Maddy, Politics and IR, third year

Maddy, a third year studying Politics and IR said: “I totally sympathise with the lecturers’ cause and think the way they have been treated by the uni is abhorrent. However, what they have to realise is that they aren’t the only ones who have been treated badly by the uni. Our cohort has also had a dreadful three years: strikes, covid and now more strikes!”

She continued: “The thing is, the way that university fees work means that we pay upfront, so the uni already has our money. They have no financial incentive, therefore, to want to stop the lecturers from striking. These strikes will only hurt the students, and because the uni has shown such a demonstrable lack of care for our needs, let alone the lecturers’, nothing will come of them. It’s a real shame because I think far more students would be on their side if we weren’t suffering the brunt of the disruption from the strikes”.

Miriam, Human Rights, postgrad 

Miriam, a postgrad at York who suggests she has seen the impact of strikes on students in previous years, had a similar opinion. She said: “Striking on teaching only hurts the students and as a consequence, they are the ones that suffer. For example, I think they strike in ways that hurt the students more than anyone and I witnessed the negative effects on students’ mental health as they couldn’t contact supervisors while writing dissertations.”

Students supporting strikes at picket lines in 2019

Lucy, Psychology, second year 

Lucy, a second year Psychology student said: “While it is completely understandable why lecturers want to strike because they aren’t being treated fairly, it seems that the people it is harming the most are the students. Speaking as a second year, we have already had the most disrupted education over the past few years, yet we are still paying £9k a year for it, meanwhile, the university will still be making money from us regardless.”

Thomas, Film and Television Production, third year 

Thomas said that although he would normally be in support of strikes, it is “an absolute joke” to strike after the hardships uni students have faced over the last two years. He said: “Usually I’m one hundred percent a supporter of strikes in general, but considering the struggle university students have faced over the last two years it’s quite frankly an absolute joke to arrange one the first semi-regular year back.

He added: “I have enormous respect for the hard work lecturers have done to make sure online learning was as informative and practical as possible, especially on my course. So of course lecturers deserve to be afforded better working conditions, pensions, etc but the time for sorting that out isn’t right now when it’s in fact the students who are struggling the most.”

Richard, Politics, first year

Richard, a first year politics student suggested he had no sympathy for the striking staff. He said the lecturers are “Overpaid, virtue signalling and complaining as usual. They are paid more than the vast majority in the UK. I think lecturers have no right to be complaining when they earn a considerable larger amount than many people in the UK and enjoy far nicer working conditions.”

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Picket lines outside Heslington Hall in 2019

However, some students are in full support of the decision to strike.

Mac,  International Relations, first year 

Mac, a first year studying International Relations said he fully supports the strikes because “Everyone has the right to fight for the wages they deserve and to receive a full pension after years of service, especially anyone in academia. University professors work for us and put in extreme effort to make us better people. They deserve their rightful wage and pension. I believe anyone who thinks of the strikes as selfish doesn’t understand how frustrating it is to work full time and have barely enough money to pay the bills, buy food, support a family, or just support yourself.

He continued: “University staff are putting their whole selves mentally and physically on the line every day for us. It is incredibly ungrateful and privileged to say they are selfish for wanting to have better pay. Also, strikes historically achieved weekends and a minimum wage so think again before you say they don’t do anything.”

William, English and History, first year

William, a first year studying English and History said: “I cannot wait to storm a picket line. Vive la revolution!”

Adam, second year, Politics and IR

Adam is another student who supports the strikes. He said: “University staff have a right to strike and we need to respect that, they don’t want to do it but it is a last resort. This isn’t a thing of students versus lecturers and I don’t believe they are striking out of spite. It is more due to the fact that this university and other universities have failed them on a national level.”

A student attending the 2019 strikes

Isaac, third year, Physics

Similarly, Isaac, a third year studying Physics, said he supports the strikes because lecturers are “Overworked and underpaid and something needs to change.”

A spokesperson for The University of York said: “We understand that students will be concerned about the potential impact on their studies and we also recognise that the decision to take industrial action is not taken lightly – we respect colleagues’ right to take part. We are working across departments to put in place support and plans to minimise the impact of the industrial action on our students. Some students may feel more impact, whilst others may experience little or none at all, so we will be assessing the disruption and how to deliver alternative or additional learning and teaching.”

The University of York UCU said: “Of course we recognise and regret the disruption caused to students by our industrial action. When workers take industrial action in people-facing workplaces like schools, hospitals, or universities they cause difficulties for the people they work with and for, as well as for their employers, and students deserve an explanation of our actions so that they can understand why this has happened.

“Like students, we have faced difficulties and distress during the pandemic, and like them our levels of mental ill-health have risen horribly. This is made worse as huge numbers of staff deal with insecure employment, poor and unfair pay, damaging workloads, and attacks on our pensions (which are our pay in retirement). At a time when the  real value of our pay has fallen by almost 20 per cent over the last decade, the gender pay gap is huge, and insecure work is growing, our employers have chosen to try to impose major cuts in our pensions based on what they themselves admit is a flawed valuation of the pension scheme. “
They continued: “We do need to deal with these problems as matters of urgency because key decisions to confirm the employers’ attack on our pensions are due early in the new year, and all discussion of pay issues has been halted. You should be clear that it is the employers’ choice to refuse to negotiate properly with the union which has caused this dispute, which they can stop by choosing to act more reasonably. Students should remind our employers that they are responsible for the dispute and challenge them to do what’s needed to resolve it.”

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