The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Don’t demand your money back!

Petitions for compensation add to the problem rather than resolve it

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In a wave of growing frustration, university lecturers have taken to protesting the proposed changes to future USS pensions, another ripple in the tide of policies that have served to undermine job security in higher education. The UUK have defended their decision to cut pensions with their newest valuations that put them at a £17.5bn deficit.

The issues behind the pension cuts are complex: some say that the projected pension deficits are emblematic of unsustainable schemes and have long since been building up, while some financial experts criticise that the deficit is a fiction spun out of excessively conservative predictions of the future. Either way, the changes are drastic — the salary threshold (the salary up to which defined benefits currently build) are proposed to crash from £55,000 to zero.

In the midst of huge financial insecurity that threatens the livelihood of university lecturers, one aspect of the situation is absolutely bewildering: online petitions for universities to compensate their students for lost contact time. In universities across the UK (Durham, Edinburgh, Manchester to name a few), student bodies have demanded that their institutions refund a set percentage of their tuition fees under the justification that the strikes pose significant disruptions to their education.

The petition for the University of Manchester to reimburse their students has gathered 6000 signatures, arguing that students are “consumers” and have paid for a quality education. Some of these sentiments are supposedly ironic: “Treat us like paying consumers and we’ll act like consumers.”

I’m sorry, but what are these people smoking?

First off, what makes people believe that universities will actually reimburse each student with an almost arbitrarily decided amount of money, a demand with no principled claim behind it? By that same economic logic, students should also be reimbursed if classes are cancelled due to bad weather or if lecturers take ill for a week.

Obviously, the reason why people are upset now and not when their lecturer takes unexpected leave is because universities have grossly neglected the interests of their teachers and have forced them to strike (an action that has not only financial but also moral consequences). So it’s incredibly bizarre that the petitions almost never demand better treatment of staff or even mention pension insecurity. The motivations behind the strikes are merely mentioned as an afterthought, attached at the end of most petitions.

The petitions are almost always self-interested, primarily concerned with the fact that students are the ones being short-changed: that they pay tuition fees but face major inconveniences to their studies.  They sideline the wrongs done to university lecturers, implying that it is the losses of students are the most morally impactful. Though I understand the resentment of having to pay high tuition fees for an education that many are unsure is worth it, it’s probably the wrong time to protest that when thousands risk to lose an estimated £10,000 a month in pension cuts.

Already, these grievances are being weaponised– striking teachers are villanised for putting their own interests above their students and are pressured to end industrial action. The demands of students run regrettably parallel to those of their lecturers, showing little to no solidarity or sympathy to their plight.

Some say that demanding compensation is simply a symbolic gesture meant to put pressure on the university to end the strikes and renegotiate pensions. This also make little sense; how does incurring a pseudo-monetary cost that is completely made up put more pressure on the university than just simply demanding they treat lecturers with fairness? Why do you need the Orwellian double-think of opposing the university’s brutal consumer model and then proceeding to protest like a consumer?

Paradoxically, the petitions also entrench the commodification of education. They attach a price tag to the strikes (which is apparently £300 per student in Manchester, and £1000 in Edinburgh and Durham). This disempowers the profoundly principled motivations that drive the strikes: that lecturers have devoted their lives to the betterment of the university and they deserve to have economic security in their old age. The pension cuts aren’t just a threat to livelihoods but a fundamental affront to their contributions and dignity as academics, and the latter of which is priceless.

Instead of signing a petition demanding your money back, write a letter to the university, demonstrate with your lecturers, and remain vocal about your opposition. Refuse to be paid off.

  • blue croonah

    The kid on the petition was right – we are being treated like consumers. I have 9 contact hours a week, and I only spend about 23-25 full weeks a year in university (tops). So I’m paying £9,250+, and my degree is being jeopardised by these strikes, and you’re saying we’re being entitled little shits for kicking up a fuss about the absolute farce that is higher education in the UK?
    I understand that tuition fees don’t just go into contact hours and so on, but if that’s how one was to calculate ‘tuition’ fees, proportionally, most students would be owed a grand or so. Even if we were to get a few hundred quid out of this, that’s not a menial amount for a student that’s already several hundred pounds in debt (thousands if we’re talking fees here too).
    Besides, strikes (and consequent reactions) are supposed to be disruptive – that’s their intended nature. Students getting pissed off with the universities, management or whatever you might want to call them, isn’t exactly harming the cause.
    You make some decent points and I see where you’re coming from in some regards, but don’t spend half the article arguing that strikes are an inconsequential inconvenience and economically negligible for students.

    • Jacklin Kwan

      That’s a really fair point to make. I think that tertiary education (and academia in general) has been continuously inaccessible to the less financially privileged. I sympathise that the strikes cause more harm to some students than others, and I think larger reforms such as providing more support to those who are financially vulnerable are incredibly necessary.

      However, I think protesting the systematic classism of tertiary education needs to occur at a different time to the strikes. I think, in particular, the petitions detract from the strikes because they take much needed exposure to achieve a separate aim without necessarily demanding fair treatment of BOTH students and staff. The goals of students and lecturers need to be addressed in very different ways, and I think both would benefit from not clashing with each other.
      I also think much of the complexity behind student resentment is lost in the petitions. They simply demand compensation without systematic reforms of the things that led to university education being so overpriced.

      I think you deserve to be pissed and that your anger deserves to have more effective avenues than the petitions.

  • GreatDayTo

    I think that in any case you simply should demand your money back. For example, if you have paid for a certain service, you expect to get the certain quality for the amount you have paid. If the company or the service has failed to meet your needs you naturally want to get your money back because you didn’t get what you asked for. The only place where you can’t get your money back is for education services because it gets more than money to get the quality skills. You’d better choose among best resume writing services reviews and see the number of services they offer for yourself.