Editorial: Universitatis Mythologia

Editorial by Aidan Lomas – Editor-in-Chief

The same week as our last issue’s release, I had the privilege of joining Thomas Copeland on Queen’s Radio’s the Scoop to discuss the potential strike action at the end of this year. It was during this conversation – with help from Robert Murtagh, the former President of NUS-USI – that I realised how ignored students really are.

Whilst the conversation with Copeland and Murtagh was interesting, it’s the Queen’s University Students’ Union I want to focus on this time. I emailed them last week for a statement on the strike action:

“It’s disappointing and concerning that universities and the UCU have failed to reach agreement on these long running issues of pensions, pay and conditions. We would encourage them to seek to resolve this issue in advance of any decision on strike action, and we have spoken to University senior management to convey our concerns.

If the UCU votes in favour of strike action, the decision of whether or not Queen’s Students’ Union will support the strike will be brought before Student Council to be debated”

QUB Students Union

Now, I don’t know about you, but all I see when reading this is a commitment to being on the fence. With it being a political role, I can somewhat understand the ‘flippism’ being taken by the Students Union; after all, it’s not like they’re elected by the students the strikes would inhibit or anything. Their seeming inability to publicly comment on the potential strike action can be explained in less sarcastic tones, however. Just take the clear contradiction strike action would cause if the SU supports such a decision. In her election manifesto from earlier this year, Welfare Officer Bethany Moore stated the following:

“It has never been clearer that students are feeling stressed, burnt out and alone. We are tired of being treated like customers. Our university needs to be reminded that we as students play a vital role within our institution”

Bethany Moore – Welfare Officer QUBSU

Moore is not alone in her at-risk pledges, but strike action would do the complete opposite of what she was elected to avoid. Strike action, which would leave students feeling stressed, burnt out and, most importantly, alone, would mean that fee paying students would be treated like customers. Actually, no! Strike action would see students treated worse than customers; after all, when a customer pays for something they tend to get it. But when students pay for it, it turns out you may not get it all? Seems odd. I chose the title of this Editorial to mock the motto of our University. As those of you who observed Chancellor Clinton’s installation ceremony will know, Queen’s University’s motto is as follows: “Pro tanto quid retribuamus”, or – for those like myself who chose GCSE French over Latin – “For so much, what shall we give back?”.

Well, considering students at QUB can pay anywhere between £4,000 and £20,000+, perhaps the University and its student representative organisations can give back a full and uninterrupted year on campus; you know, a quid pro quo if you will. We pay for university, you allow us to go to university. It’s a radical idea, I know, but I don’t think I’m alone in this one.

Students have a history of being overlooked.

A fire burns in Parliament Square, Westminster, London, as students demonstrate against planned tuition fee increases on Thursday Dec. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gareth Fuller/PA)

During my conversation with Thomas Copeland and Robert Murtagh, something else came to my attention; Universities and their student organisations may somehow be remarkably out of touch with, well, students. It was one point that Robert made which made me realise this. He said that students should support the strike action to build a “student-staff alliance”. This was an interesting position, if you ask me, for him to take. This largely being due to how quiet the calls for a “staff-student” alliance were during the pandemic’s gruelling lockdowns. I referred previously in my last editorial to the reality that it was a tad insulting for students to be educationally abandoned during the pandemic and then be asked to support the same people who played a role in abandoning them. Now, as I’ve said for a while, I’m not against staff being treated with respect and dignity by their employer; I am, however, against students being disrespected in such a way. My Educators during the pandemic terms were fantastic, and provided me with a wealth of support above and beyond what I myself would have expected of them; to them, and they know who they are, I thank you. However, to the staff, whose names I have, who have allegedly been as minimalistic with their students during that same period of time, I resent you.

Strong words? Perhaps, but they’re not unfounded. In my discussion on The Scoop on Sunday, I recognised that educators and others staff members at QUB and UU are human beings; they’re people who had their own struggles during the pandemic. But unlike students, they had a responsibility and a duty to do what was necessary for their students. Imagine if the police, fire, or medical emergency services were half-arsing their work during the pandemic! There would be an outrage. Yet, for some ineffable reason, the duty some staff had to their students seemingly vanished when the first lockdown occurred; I am in no doubt, meanwhile, that this duty will miraculously return once the pandemic’s restrictions are eased for good. Some staff left students isolated, the Student Union’s best efforts were a mass tweet, and the Universities themselves seemed to pretend nothing was going on. So, where’s the outrage? Seemingly, nowhere. We’re just expected to carry on paying for an education we’ve barely received, only to pay whilst that education is once again taken away from us in the interest of everyone but us. Ironically, students being treated as customers is something Welfare Office Bethany Moore was elected to stand against; as students, despite the financing we provide by attending universities, we really are at the bottom of the pecking order.

The Editor-in-Chief will continue to comment and report on the current state of affairs regarding the potential strike action here in Northern Ireland.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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