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Students feeling the brunt of strikes at UK universities

The castle at University College, Durham UK. (Nargis Babar/YJI)

Cardiff and Durham, UK – The ongoing university strikes and marking boycotts are impacting students across the UK. 

As the summer begins, people are left uncertain about their academic progress and how this could impact their career prospects.

But more than anything, students are frustrated at universities for not cooperating with teaching staff who simply demand fair working conditions.

“As a student, I haven’t done anything to affect staff working conditions, yet I am the one being affected the most,” said Nathalie Barragán, a first-year criminology student at Durham University, who said the staff participation in the strikes is not the problem.

“I support the teachers wanting to get treated as they deserve but after all of the education disruptions with covid, it just feels like I haven’t had the experience I expected, ” said Lucy Charing, a second-year psychology student at Cardiff University.

Over the past few years, the University and College Union, which represents some 110,000 university faculty and lecturers in the UK, have been organizing nationwide protests and strikes.

In their latest efforts, the union is organizing wide-scale marking boycotts alongside continued warnings of strike action in the coming academic cycle. 

A union pamphlet. (Nargis Babar/YJI)

The strikes and ongoing boycott have cost students dozens of teaching hours, resulted in a lack of academic support and has diminished student participation, as many leave campus during strike periods.

Strike action has been a feature of British university life for years now. But now, from April to September, the union has organized a marking boycott, where participating staff will not grade papers or examinations.

Union leaders said it will only end strike action if they are able to reach an agreement with the universities involved. 

One of the biggest effects of the strikes over the past academic year is fewer practical work opportunities.

Joshua Dwight, a first-year engineering student at Cardiff University, talked about how this has affected him. “I haven’t been able to do as much hands-on work as I thought I did… I don’t feel like I have progressed as much as I wanted to this year.”

As these strikes and marking boycotts are set to continue, it leaves students questioning the value they get from their degrees, according to Dwight.

All these issues have led to anxiety about the future.

For those in the final year of their degree, this will prevent them from receiving their grades on time, affecting their career plans and future academic goals. And for other students, not knowing what they did wrong in assignments prevents them from improving to their fullest potential, also affecting academic performance in the long run. 

Barragán expressed her frustration over delayed feedback during the strike period.

“I needed the feedback on time to complete the summative on that same question,” Barragán said. 

Charing also said most of the frustration is aimed at the higher-ups of universities.

“My lecturers and tutors have tried to keep us all informed as much as possible and tried to reassure us. But higher up in the university, the communication has been sparse. It’s like no one wants to talk about it unless they absolutely have to,” Charing said.

And with this lack of communication, it means students must actively seek the information for themselves, as both Charing and Dwight said. 

Ultimately, students bear the brunt of the strike while staff remain, in their view, overworked and underpaid.

“I don’t think anyone wanted it to get to this stage, so the fact that it has is very worrying,” said Dwight.

Nargis Babar is a Reporter and Holly Hostetter-Davies is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.

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