Students conflicted over UCU strikes

Written by Athena Stavrou

Both of Sheffield’s students unions have officially supported this week’s UCU strikes, however the students they represent are split on backing the action.

University staff who are members of UCU have been striking since Wednesday in response to proposed pension cuts, high workloads, zero-hour contracts and gender and racial pay disparities.

While strikes are due to finish today, action short of a strike will continue until UCU demands are met, causing disturbance to many students and their university experience.

This follows a difficult year disrupted by COVID-19 and strikes in 2018, meaning students have not had a normal academic term for three years.

Despite this, the student unions of Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam, have released statements in support of strike action.

An official statement from Sheffield Hallam’s Student Union said: “We at the Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union stand in solidarity with members of Sheffield Hallam’s University and College Union (UCU) who will be engaged in strike action.”

Meanwhile, University of Sheffield’s Students Union said: “We know that the strikes will cause disruption to students’ learning, while also acknowledging that academic staff’s working conditions are our learning conditions and need to improve.”

Many students from across both universities are supporting these statements and the strikes.

Zac Larkham, a member of Sheffield Solidarity Group and a second year Politics and Sociology student, said: “Some lecturers are having to make the choice between paying their rent or buying a new pair of shoes.

“Lecturers and university staff are some of the only people at the university that actually do care about the students. All students are doing by saying they don’t support the strike is playing into the hands of those who don’t give a damn about us.”

However, some students feel like their Student Union has not represented their interests.

A third year Mechanical Engineering student said: “The strikes last year were even worse, plus we had to deal with COVID resulting in online classes on top of that.

“I know staff have also been treated unfairly but purely from our perspective we’re paying huge amounts of money for learning and don’t receive any compensation.” 

Some areas of the student community are disproportionately affected, including postgraduate and international students. A Politics MA student at the University of Sheffield said: “It takes away a lot of the teaching time, a lot of the content on my course really needs to be discussed in person.

“Since I’m doing [a] masters course, I feel more impacted because I only get one year. So everyday lost counts really.”

Both Student Unions remain fully open during strike action, and have put measures in place to support students affected by strikes, including a winter wellbeing events programme at the University of Sheffield. They also both urge that students should contact the relevant support services at their university if they feel negatively impacted by the strike action.

Written by Athena Stavrou

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