Editorial by Aidan Lomas
Good things come to those who wait; that’s what we’re taught as children. Well, in the same week I had the honour of attending Chancellor Clinton’s controversial investment, it would seem that patience doesn’t play a part; I am of course talking about the strike ballot taking place in October.
Imagine – and by “imagine” I mean “remember”, because we all went through it – being left isolated during the pandemic, left alone with emotional and economical struggles, only to be expected to support a strike which leaves us further emotionally and economically strained. Imagine being ignored throughout a period of history in which the calls of “we’re all in this together” seemingly don’t apply to students, whilst students across the UK and Ireland are vilified for spreading the pandemic’s viral venom. It seems unimaginable, right? Well, if you said “No, that’s perfectly reasonable” I am going to make two assumptions without fear of making an “ass out of you and me”. Firstly, I am going to assume you’re not a student. I am not surprised – if this is the case – that you take this view; after all, students are just trouble, right? Secondly, on the grounds that previous option does not apply to you, I am going to assume that you’re blind. You’re blind to the realities H.E students have faced over the past god-knows-how-many months.
Those calls of “We’re all in this together” seem to me to be our generation’s counterpart to the Great War’s “It’ll be over by Christmas”. We weren’t in it together at all. The fantastic front line workers of the NHS/HSCNI services were heroic in their actions. The wonderfully committed community members, who supported their neighbours throughout the pandemic’s solemn soliloquy, reminded me that the best of British and Irish still exists outside of McDonald’s advertisement campaigns. But the Governments’ clear imperative that students were expendable says to me – and maybe I am alone – that Johnson’s and Martin’s respective Cabinets have forgotten something rather important to their present positions; they were student too. Be it a long time ago since the pair were themselves at University – Balliol, Oxford, and University College Cork respectively –, and with evidently different circumstances, the clear and ineffably impotent – maybe both definitions are interpretable here – policy toward students’ wellbeing is something I personally will not forget in a hurry.
So, here’s my Editorial plea; if you’re an educator, and you’re going to support strike action, please do so in a way that doesn’t mean students are once again left to their fates. It’s – without wanting to sound like a whining child – unfair for students, who’ve been abandoned by the Government and University for the best part of 18 months, to be once again, in such a short period of time, abandoned. I’m not against the strikes. In fact, from what the UCU have published, I’m in favour of the staff at Queen’s getting their fair treatment. It’s completely rational for staff to want and to demand to be treated with respect and dignity; I won’t pretend to have been surprised at what the UCU was reporting. After all, we seem to live in a country where applause is considered preferable to pay. What I am against, however, is students being abandoned once again; I wonder if I keep writing that word, will it be noticed?
Students pay for the services Universities provide; this is fair. What’s unfair is when that money is used by Universities for other, perhaps unnecessary projects; did they expect staff to sit back and stay quiet? Do they expect students to take the side of the University? However, on the flip side of the coin, it’s unfair for students to pay anywhere between £4,000 and £20,000+ to be told to stay at home and study independently. I appreciate the point of University education is to encourage an independent spirit within its collegiate. But it’s hardly reasonable to tell students that this independent spirit cannot be aided by access to lecturers. The nature of University education was weak at best during the pandemic. I’m not saying this was the fault of University staff; after all, they never played a role in causing the most radical alteration to normality our generation has perhaps ever seen. This – and maybe this is just me -, however, does not mean that staff are not to be held accountable either. Whilst I was fortunate to have some excellent lecturers and tutorial leaders, who went above and beyond their requirements to ensure that my peers and I still had a strong university education and experience for our second year, I am also aware that some of my friends were not as lucky.
So, that’s why I am opposed to strike action here at Queen’s University at the mid point of this academic year. I would encourage staff to continue to demand better working conditions. I would encourage students to support their lecturers, tutorial leaders, and friends. But I would not, and will not, support a strike which hinders student careers any further and any sooner. As someone who can often find themselves being told “too soon” after making an ill-fated joke, allow me to extend the same accolade to those who plan to support and take part in strike action this academic year; it’s too soon. Students need a much missed continuity in their education, and going on strike will quite obviously hinder this massively. Then again, students are so rarely listened to on these subjects; I guess I’ll just allow the same old story to play out: thanks for raising your concerns, now go on strike.