Editor's column

The strikes should affect research, not students’ classes

Yesterday was the first meaningful day of lecturers’ strikes as part of industrial action that will last 14 days over four weeks. I say meaningful because this was actually the third day of strikes, the first two falling in UEA’s reading week. I’d like to make something clear. Lecturers at UEA are striking owing to the suggested unsustainability of lecturers’ pension scheme as well as owing to pay, equality, universities’ failure to deal with casualistaion, and workload. These are all major issues that need answers. And yet there’s a problem here.

The problem isn’t with staff striking, it’s with whom those strikes are affecting.

This industrial action affects students, and final year students especially. Suddenly people heading towards summative and dissertation deadlines may be without their seminar leaders and lecturers, which in turn may affect their overall mark. Now of course, the examinations board may take this strike action into account. They may even shift grade boundaries to excuse marks dropped owing to the strikes. But also, they may not. It may be that the examination board decides it should not change the boundaries. After all, too many first class degrees have been handed out in recent years, why risk lowering boundaries and prompting another wave of questions from the general public?

The issue with targeting classes, and in turn students, is that it’s a method lecturers have tried, tested, and found not to work. Similar strikes took place in 2018, and now here we are again.

We’ve already paid the university our money. Sure, we could ask for compensation – many UEA students already are – but that’s subject to a barrel-load of red tape. The fact students are not having classes doesn’t seem to affect the university’s position in terms of lecturers’ pensions. Maybe it should, but that’s not the point. What the university relies on to uphold its reputation nationally and internationally, and in turn to prompt more students to apply to UEA, is research. Take that away and I reckon you have a fairly grumpy university.

Many lecturers may enjoy their research more than their classes, but if they really want to prompt a change, they must shift tactics. Targeting research is only a suggestion, but what we do know is that targeting students and our classes has not solved much in the past.

This issue is one of our best yet. I’m especially pleased with the photograph on the front page. Our Lead Photographer Harry Chapman has captured UEA in a very solemn light. I’m not sure whether you can call it the golden hour of rainy days, but it’s definitely close. I believe the photograph reflects well on the story we’re leading with. It is a very serious news story, and it’s something we’ve been working on for a number of months. As with every article we publish, I hope this one will prompt a degree of change.

Moving on in the paper, we have everything from Deputy Editor Jess Barrett’s feature on foundation years (p.10) to Travel Editor Sam Hewitson’s article ‘The digital nomad dilemma’ (p.20). 

This is our ninth issue of the year and it is definitely time to mention Venue’s fantastic original artworks that Venue Editor Ellie Robson and her Deputy Amelia Rentell have commissioned. We had a good talk about it on our award-winning Livewire show ‘A Week in Concrete’ last week (tune in every Tuesday at 5pm). This week’s cover is a delightful lino print of the Zigguarats by Maia Brown. From News and Features to Science and Travel, we’ve got you covered, and remember it’s not too late to join Concrete! We’re always on the look out for writers, photographers, and general tech whizz-kids to join us! You can scan the link below to become a member.

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Chris Matthews