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As many will already know, a dispute between university staff and their employers has been ongoing for several months. As a result, there has been disruption to teaching at universities throughout the country. Recently, to combat the strikes, students at the University of Warwick arranged self-taught lectures in place of cancelled ones. They defended their actions as merely helping one another with their studies, but some say they are undermining the point of the strikes.
Now, I see where the lecturers and union members that oppose the students are coming from. The whole point of a strike is to cause disruption to the system in order to be noticed and have your voices heard. The situation with staff pay is harmful (a cut of around 13% since 2008, according to the University and College Union) and definitely needs to be addressed: but the dispute is between the staff and the employers, not the students. So why should we become victims? We have paid thousands of pounds to come here and learn and the number of disruptions we’ve had to our lectures and seminars are beginning to annoy many people. If students want to carry on learning and helping each other to learn rather than spending an extra day in bed or on the picket line with staff, then we should be able to do so without being condemned for it. At the end of the day, it’s our money and students want to spend it on the full education that they were promised in September.
Not only is the “automatic lecture” value for money but it also shows solidarity in the students and a willingness to help others, which should be encouraged in young people. Let’s face it, we’re never going to survive in the working world without asking for help or working in a group, so it is important to acknowledge that rather than damning the students for trying. However, you do have to wonder just how good these self-taught lectures were. Sure, students can read straight off the PowerPoints and make the links to what they covered yesterday, but lecturers often add in extra information that the students may not necessarily already know. They are experienced in teaching and students aren’t, so the quality is bound to be lower.
Yet surely a bad lecture is better than no lecture at all. You can’t blame the students for taking matters in their own hands though, when there have been so many strikes and disruptions to learning. Since the start of this year, I personally have missed four classes due to the union members striking, and I know others have missed more. With so many instances, you really have to wonder whether they have an effective way of getting their point across. If nothing has been done so far, are people even taking note of the strikes? Usually when people strike, the employer loses money as production dries up and customers start leaving. However, as universities are mostly state funded and only paid for by students in advance, no money is really being lost and the employers aren’t really facing any disruption through lack of workers. They get their money whether lectures happen or not. The only real victims currently seem to be the students, and we’re expected to just deal with it. These student-run lectures are exactly our way of dealing with it, so why are they seen as such a negative thing?
By all means, side with the university staff and support their argument – it is certainly a battle worth fighting – but if you start believing that students shouldn’t receive their full education due to your industrial dispute, there’s a chance that you will lose their backing and will be worse off in the long run. Students know that they are not being made victims on purpose, and no-one is specifically targeting them to get their point across, but we are still victims of collateral damage. We should be allowed to take matters into our own hands and fix that. No-one is suffering when a group of students get together and try to learn. If I organised a study group in my flat, especially coming up to exams, no one would bat an eyelid; it really isn’t any different if I hold that session in a lecture theatre.