I am an MA student on the journalism course at Birkbeck, University of London, fighting for compensation for lectures lost due to the staff strike. We paid £3,000 last term for services that were not provided. I wrote to the master of the university, David Latchman, about this and received no reply. I then wrote to the registrar and got this back: “Your tuition fees contribute towards your entire learning experience and are not directly linked to specific contact or teaching hours. Your tuition fees also cover infrastructure such as buildings, library and IT.” How can it possibly be stated that my entire learning experience is not diminished by a lack of lectures?
The university have taken my money and banked what they have not paid the lecturers, it seems. We have been told that the strike may affect lectures for the first two weeks of next term and could be ongoing. I have just been asked to pay my fees for the summer term. I don’t intend to throw more money at the university unless I get a promise of compensation if the strike is ongoing. I wonder if I’ll be thrown off the course?
• As a student of English at the University of Southampton, I have been affected by the recent decision by the UCU that called for all of my lecturers to strike with the aim of retaining a favourable pension deal. At the end of my four-year course, I will have racked up debts in excess of £54,000, a sum that will increase at a rate of interest of approximately 6% (why didn’t I ask the banks for a loan instead?). I understand that lecturers are feeling frustrated about their pension cut, especially when the pay of the vice-chancellor of my university is £433,000. This is a perfectly legitimate concern. But without trying to mount a pedestal of moral authority, I would not be going on strike were I a lecturer. The work that goes into the six hours of lectures and seminars that I am entitled to each week is admirable. Oh, and the one hour per week during which I am able to arrange a 10-minute meeting with my tutor to discuss my progress.
If this was back in the days of free tuition, I might even have joined the staff on the picket lines. But unfortunately, I wasn’t born in the same decade as my baby-boomer parents, and I am paying £9,250 per annum for tuition alone. I hope that the lecturers don’t win this battle.
If vice-chancellors were to now bend and snap against their principles (however much I might disagree with whatever they are), it would set a dangerous precedent that students are legitimate pawns to take advantage of in industrial disputes. And we are not.
• I am about to sit my GCSEs. I am surrounded by many bright young women every day, some who excel in examinations and others who do not. However, one thing we all have in common is our strong feelings towards standardised testing. Every year thousands of 15/16-year-olds are forced to sit GCSEs. What education ministers do not realise is the harm this pressure causes young people. It leads to high stress levels, a loss of interest in education and, in many cases, mental health problems: approximately one in 10 children have them.
I have seen the harmful effects of this robotic exam system which leaves no room for creativity. We need students to feel that there is more to life than exam grades. This can be achieved by encouraging universities to look at the whole person rather than just grades, and to value experiences and extracurriculars, like the US education system. The most successful people did not get straight A*s.
The exams should also lend themselves to all kinds of students, not simply those with the ability to memorise, testing true intelligence rather than artificial intelligence. We are growing up in an age of robots; surely we should be raising humans who can do what robots cannot do: be creative. The government should scrap GCSEs and focus on A-levels – maybe if the school system did not burn so many people out, then people would stay on. At least ministers should realise that, as Einstein (the cleverest of them all) said: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
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