As I write on this cold December day, I can see a crowd gathering outside my college gates at Durham University, some carrying Thermos flasks.
You might mistake it for something rather festive and jolly, if it weren’t for the shouty slogans on the signs they angrily wave. One reads: ‘I’d rather be teaching.’
To which it’s tempting to respond: ‘Then why aren’t you?’
The answer is that some university lecturers appear determined to put their own agenda before what should be their primary role of educating students – paying students, let’s not forget.
Under the banner of the University and College Union (UCU), lecturers at 58 universities across Britain have yet again downed tools, this time striking for three days as they demand improvements in pay, working conditions and pension packages.
As I write on this cold December day, I can see a crowd gathering outside my college gates at Durham University, some carrying Thermos flasks
Meanwhile, students like me are caught in the middle – the collateral damage of a row that should be between employers and employees.
And let’s not forget: we have already had our education severely disrupted by the pandemic for nearly two years.
Like schoolchildren, we have struggled through months of limited online learning and sat exams on subjects that many had to teach themselves.
Many have faced even bigger personal challenges, including mental health problems caused by the isolation of repeated lockdowns and the stress of trying to study with- out guidance, leadership or peer support.
According to a study this week in the British Medical Journal, one in three first year students has depression or anxiety.
The answer is that some university lecturers appear determined to put their own agenda before what should be their primary role of educating students – paying students, let’s not forget
My university years are precious to me – because they are so hard-won. I became homeless at 16 and spent my sixth form years surfing people’s sofas, working three minimum-wage jobs to support myself, often not sure where the next meal was coming from.
But I worked my socks off to get the best A-levels I could, encouraged by some brilliant school teachers who went to incredible lengths to support me.
Some even did my laundry and gave me somewhere to shower and sleep. But, most importantly, they did all they could to encourage me to get to university.
They knew that a degree would be my golden ticket out of poverty.
But now it feels that this is being jeopardised – snatched away by some of the very people who are meant to deliver it.
It feels like a slap in the face. Not just for me, but for all of us who worked hard to reach university, only to find that our lecturers are putting their own agendas ahead of the young people they are paid to educate.
On the one hand, students are treated as consumers, courted with glossy brochures promising high quality teaching – courtesy of loans that will take decades to repay, if at all.
My debt will total around £50,000 by the time I graduate.
On the other we are treated as assets to exploit. And those promises of first class in-person teaching, seminars and tutorials where we could debate, exchange ideas and expand our minds have all too quickly been dropped.
And it’s not just because of Covid. Students have now been affected by strikes in every year since 2018.
Do lecturers not realise how damaging this is? Or do they simply not care?
I am studying law which would ordinarily involve a large number of lectures, tutorials and seminars. But due to ‘Covid restrictions’ the majority of my teaching still remains online. Why?
Meanwhile, students like me are caught in the middle – the collateral damage of a row that should be between employers and employees
Under the banner of the University and College Union (UCU), lecturers at 58 universities across Britain have yet again downed tools, this time striking for three days as they demand improvements in pay, working conditions and pension packages
There are currently no national legal limits on the numbers allowed to gather inside – and in most workplaces people have returned to their pre-Covid levels.
My university has yet to provide an explanation for why we have to follow rules the rest of the country does not.
And if it isn’t Covid or protests over pensions and pay that are ripping away our education, it’s political point-scoring and ideology.
In June this year, 150 dons refused to teach students at Oxford University’s Oriel College in protest at the decision not to take down the statue of its benefactor Cecil Rhodes.
Punishing current students over the ‘institutional racism’ is utterly ridiculous.
And what’s more, shouldn’t these so-called educators be the first to say that debate is far more constructive than boycott? Perhaps not.
Consider poor Professor Kathleen Stock, hounded out of Sussex University for her views on biological sex by some trans-activist students and many of her own colleagues.
Consider poor Professor Kathleen Stock, hounded out of Sussex University for her views on biological sex by some trans-activist students and many of her own colleagues
The general-secretary of the University and College Union – the same union behind this week’s strikes – refused to support her.
Little wonder that vice-chancellors this week claimed that the UCU has been hijacked by the hard-Left.
The truth is that wokery and aggressive personal agendas have become the norm in academia – be it trans ideology, ‘white privilege’ or, indeed, lecturers’ own pensions.
Let me be clear: I passionately believe that people must be free to express their opinions – but why must lecturers always be so quick to strike, dispensing with the students in their charge at the drop of a hat?
The great irony is that it is those from the poorest backgrounds, who Left-wingers always claim to stand up for, who will bear the brunt.
Education was meant to be my key to a better future – they are ripping that opportunity away from me.