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It is students who will suffer under upcoming university strikes

Students set to suffer due to strikes over pensions. Source: shutterstock.com

Students in the UK will soon be losing precious hours of learning as universities prepare for strike action by thousands of lecturers protesting changes to their pension scheme.

The University and College Union recently announced strike plans to cause ‘maximum disruption’ on 61 UK campuses, starting with a two-day walkout on Feb 22 and 23, before escalating to three, four and finally five days over the following four weeks.

During the total 14 days, lecturers involved will not be partaking in contact hours or be available for questions.

Thousands of students eager to learn will have no classes to discuss their set readings, no outlet to propose their questions and yet, they will still be charged and marked the same at the end of the year.

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The new ‘Defined Contributions Scheme’ means lecturers will receive a lump-sum on the day of their retirement, its value depending on the stock market performance of an underlying investment, rather than the fixed annual amount that retired lecturers are currently rewarded with.

This is understandably a shock to the system. Someone telling you, “sorry, you will actually have to survive on a final sum that is out of our control” completely out of the blue has got to sting.

But hey, university officials often throw curveballs to students as well, without sparking student strikes.

From issuing the wrong exam papers to changing loan repayment policies, lecturers aren’t the only ones who fall victim to university shake-ups.

And surely, it is students who hold the power here: if every student decided to refuse to pay their fees, the universities would fall into a much larger crisis than lecturers refusing to do their job causes.

Knowing that students do not and most likely won’t implement these tactics – and even when they have, it’s been a redundant activity – it is unlikely that universities will budge on their pension proposals. After all, it is the students that will suffer but the institutions’ incomes will remain unchanged.

Lecturers shouldn’t be made to feel underprivileged and cheated, but by staging dramatic walkouts, they are leaving a whole nation’s student population marooned in an academic ocean without even a paddle.

Students go to university to learn from leading professors, embrace intellectual pursuit and hopefully graduate with a respectable qualification. Lecturers are stopping students from reaching their potential by refusing to teach.

So as exam dates loom closer, essay deadlines creep nearer and dissertations draw to a close, lecturers should be doing all they can to support students in this endeavor, rather than leaving them deserted.

But, of course, it is total desertion lecturers are aiming for. Some universities have even postponed walk-outs that fall in reading weeks, in the hope that student outcries will push the universities into shaking up the pensions.

The only way the damage of these strikes could be mitigated is acknowledging their effects in assessments and exams. Removing topics that would have been covered during the strikes from exams, extending essay deadlines and increasing contact times for dissertation students is the only way that students will not be the ones to bear the heavy weights of the strikes.

Yet, the decision to change assessments does not lie on the shoulders of the lecturers taking strike action. Imagine trying to convince university seniors to invest time and money reprinting exams, reshuffling essay schedules and improving dissertation preparation over strikes that caused them chaos in the first place.

While lecturers deserve to be respected for their work and to be treated fairly, it is ultimately young academics and future change makers that will suffer as a result.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Study International

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