University College Union USS strikes: If you can’t beat them, join them

I remember the buzz (or lack of) around university that comes when the first semester is over. January exams, coursework deadlines and the rush to cram in as much before the year ends sees many students in the library into the early hours of the morning, with a stark reminder to buckle down.

Now imagine starting this intense period with lectures being cancelled, work being left unmarked and the inability to book meetings with your tutor. If you study at one of the 60 or so universities where staff are members of the UCU (University and College Union), this is probably a reality for you. From the end of February into mid-March, lecturers and others are partaking in a series of USS strikes over changes to their USS pension scheme. I’ve always wondered how strikes work; of course, they raise awareness, but how do they help to make a change?

Part of the thinking behind the USS strikes is that by interrupting the daily routine of universities, lecturers hope that the university that they are at will meet their requests. Students missing out on vital teaching hours and the potential of missing exams (if the strikes continue for longer) will at large affect the reputation of these universities. If you’ve ever had to fill out one of those student surveys in your final year of university where lecturers and tutors remind you of the importance of putting your honest opinion (meaning paint the course and university in the best light possible), you’ll know just how important a university’s reputation is. Due to this, it is the thought of those on strike that protecting reputation will save their pensions. However, is doing so at the cost of a student’s education worth it?

According to 61% of students, it is. In a recent YouGov Poll conducted before the USS strikes began, the consensus was that students supported the strikes being held, and rather than blaming their lecturers for walking out, they put the blame on their institutions. However, being a recent graduate, my initial thought when seeing the statistics was ‘how can you, a student, support something where you are losing out? Paying £9000 a year, but not receiving the full support that you are due?’, and then it hit me.

Here I am in £27k+ worth of debt.
Here I am feeling let down by the system.
And here I am working towards my future career where the security of a good pension pot is not guaranteed.

Standing in solidarity with their lecturers, students are standing up perhaps thinking of their future, perhaps able to empathise, perhaps feeling that if they can help to achieve a win here for others, then maybe it can be the same for them too one day.

The 49% of students who most likely feel let down by their lecturers can’t be ignored, and the rumours of compensation may not bring them much comfort. Nonetheless, in the light of such events, what more is there for one out of the one million students effected to do?

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