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Saying ‘Yes’ to the SURHUL Referendum on supporting UCU Strike Action

"I’m writing this as the referendum is ongoing and want to express why I will vote ‘Yes’, but also address some very worrying attitudes towards higher education generally which I have noticed during these debates."

(Ed. This article was submitted too late for the Founder’s print deadline, and so is published here much earlier than the author expected)

By the time this edition of The Founder is published, the UCU Strike Action will have gone ahead and the result of the referendum deciding whether or not the Student’s Union will support the lecturers will have been made apparent. I’m writing this as the referendum is ongoing and, in my ignorance of what the future holds, want to express why I will vote ‘Yes’, but also address some very worrying attitudes towards higher education generally which I have noticed during these debates.

Yesterday, I and lots of others were invited to a Facebook event to ‘Vote against SU support for UCU lecturer strike’. The main thread of argument from this group focuses on threats to student welfare due to ‘a number of cancelled classes and revision sessions’ and some vaguer speculations about delays in work being marked. As has been repeatedly pointed out by many others, these very short term disruptions to teaching are really nothing in comparison with the long terms benefits to student welfare to be gained from having happy, well-paid staff and a healthy and respectful relationship between student and lecturer bodies.

The most worrying thing for me about these arguments though, is the attitudes towards university in general which they have revealed among what I really hope is a minority of students. I have always believed that at higher education institutions such as RHUL, there is a mutual understanding between lecturers and students of the value and necessity of ‘learning for learning’s sake’. But petty complaints about delays in marking and missed classes, suggest an attitude among a few that we are here for little more than to have lecturers churn out teaching each week like degree-giving machines. While fortunately there are still plenty who believe that university means more than this, others seem only to desire to be stuck on to the graduate production line and be conveniently and efficiently handed a figure on a piece of paper the end of it.

University is about more than degree classifications. It’s about learning to widen our perspectives and allowing us to see a bigger picture. The bigger picture in this debate is surely the obvious long term benefits to saying ‘yes’. However the vote turns out, it isn’t going to affect whether or not the action goes ahead. So voting ‘no’ of course isn’t literally going to affect student welfare whatsoever. But voting ‘yes’, asides from being a good-willed gesture of support to the people who teach and work closely with us, could have massive benefits in terms of quality of teaching and any future actions for student welfare which might be aided by the support of our lecturers.

I also always thought that, whatever your specific feelings to individual lecturers, there was a resounding respect among students for the people who understand and teach the subjects you have chosen to learn about. Our lecturers are the experts in fields we are passionate for and are people we can look up to. One comment on the Facebook group I mentioned earlier described staff as ‘crying over a tiny, tiny drop of spilt milk’. Though I don’t take this as representative of all members of the group, it is reflective of an upsetting disrespect and lack of appreciation that a 1.5% per annum cut to a pension is a very significant loss to an individual.

Reading this now you can happily enjoy the benefit of knowing whether my ‘yes’ vote had been in vain, or whether I really didn’t have anything to worry about in the first place. Either way, I still feel that the detracting attitudes to university education which have emerged this weekend needs a combating voice. As much as I appreciate the sentiment of the Anti-Cuts slogan ‘Education is a right, not a privilege’, I think we also need to appreciate that, as it stands, we are privileged and fortunate to be here and I hope that fellow students go through their university experience dreaming about a little more than a results envelope.

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