Why I support the strikes at York even though I’m missing way too much teaching

Yes the strikes are frustrating, but how do you think the lecturers feel?

2.5 million students across the country have been affected by 18 days of UCU strikes through February and March. I am one of them, and you probably are too. I feel your pain. Whilst strike action has been paused for the last few weeks, it resumed yesterday and carries on until next Wednesday, meaning more teaching will be missed.

As a second-year English Lit student, I only have eight contact hours a week. That may not seem like much to you, and to be honest, it really isn’t. It already seems like I’m not getting the most out of my £9,250 tuition fee. So when all my seminars are being cancelled because of strikes, I can’t help but be frustrated.

But it is important to remember why lecturers are striking. It’s easy to blame them for everything without thinking properly about what is causing UCU to take such drastic action. Wanting pay rises that actually keep pace with inflation, secure contracts, and a manageable workload doesn’t seem too much to ask. So here is why I support the strikes as a York student, even though I’m missing way too much teaching:

Racking up debt for no reason isn’t exactly my ideal uni experience

English Literature isn’t the most intensive degree out there. Compared to STEM subjects doing up to 20 hours a week, it already feels like I’m getting less value for money. To add to that, we are expected to do endless amounts of reading for a lecture and a seminar that barely scratches the surface of the topic we are doing that week, and then we move on to something else. I know what I signed up for, but I can still complain about it.

To that end, it is infuriating when the strikes mean I miss out on nearly three whole weeks of content, which at this point in the year includes 25 per cent of my end-of-year coursework. I chose to come to the University of York so that I could learn more. At the moment, the only thing I’m getting from my university experience is thousands of pounds of debt.

Speaking to friends in STEM subjects who barely even realise the strikes are going ahead, it feels like a difficult pill to swallow. While they continue on as normal, I have barely any teaching for the duration of the strikes. It feels like I am being robbed of an education that is already so heavy on independent reading and learning.

No one is being affected by the strikes in the same way

Don’t get me wrong – I fully support the strikes. As a second year, I recognise that I am fairly lucky not to have my final year affected (yet). If the outcome of my whole degree was being directly impacted by the strikes, no doubt I would have a different opinion. But for now, having ten seminars cancelled feels as much a blessing as it is a curse.

It gives me an opportunity to focus on my coursework and essays without the stress of preparing for seminars too. But to write my coursework and essays, I need to do the seminar work anyway. It’s a cycle I’m not too happy to be a part of.

I also recognise I have been exceptionally unlucky with my timetabling and tutors. For some reason, all three of my seminars each week fall on a Tuesday, which coincidentally happens to be when most of the strike days are. Because all of my tutors are striking, this means I have missed every seminar for three weeks in a row. This is the only time I have ever wished for more contact hours.

The perks of doing English Lit in the midst of the strikes are not lost on me. As every week tends to focus on a different text and/or theory, it is fairly easy to teach yourself. I imagine I would be struggling much more if I was doing a Physics degree.

Lecturers aren’t the ones to blame

Through all this, my tutors are the ones bending over backwards to make sure we still get a thorough education and preparation for assessments. They are rearranging weeks to allow us to be supported as best we can. The English Department is trying its best to mitigate the impact of the strikes on students while standing up for themselves and their colleagues. Their Poetry on the Pickets event was a delightful way of staying true to themselves. My grievances are not with them.

Even communication from Vice-Chancellor Charlie Jeffery has been fairly clear. With emails confirming the UCU strike dates and what that would mean for students, as well as a YUSU Instagram Live discussion that I recommend watching, at least we know what is going on.But when the vice-chancellors are the ones refusing to acquiesce to UCU demands on a national scale, I can’t help but feel slightly hopeless. This debate has been going on for years – why would it change now?

No doubt we will not be compensated for time lost to strikes. From my calculations, the teaching I’m missing out on will cost me just under £700 in lost time. There are so many things I would rather spend money on, especially in a cost of living crisis. But unfortunately, years of UCU strikes have not filled me with much confidence in regards to compensation or demands being met.

Trying to juggle my justified feelings of anger for missing out on so much of my education with my genuine support for the strikes is difficult. But we must all keep in mind the reasons why our lecturers are striking. It is their very last resort, and supporting them is much more productive than being angry about things we can’t change.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Strikes Day Two: Everything that happened at the York Uni picket line today

The next two weeks of strikes at Uni of York have been called off

Six ways to deal with your housemates during deadline season as a York student