Monday, 5 March 2018

Why do we bother, Fawlty?

I've nothing whatever against strike action. In fact, the right to withdraw your labour has got to be one of the fundamental rights of man. And woman.

But if you do (and I've been on strike) your pay suffers. That much also is true and - as long as such deductions are proportional - is right and as it should be. 

I've been on the receiving end, too, as a punter. I've bought train tickets for trains that haven't run because of strikes and I've had events cancelled for the same reason. Believe it or not, as a student, I was even affected by a strike of university lecturers.

The difference is, back then, I wasn't paying. Not directly. Back in the good old days the state funded your degree and even chipped in for your living costs. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, it was the system then and the same for everyone. 

This time, of course, the striking lecturers are depriving students of some very, very expensive lectures, tutorials, even exams. Because I was informed at the weekend that at least one university (well, faculty within one university although it may be more widespread) - one world-famous university at that - was planning to make its students sit their end-of-year exams but then refuse to mark their papers, issuing a blanket 'pass' grade to everyone instead.

Now, my daughter is paying a great deal for her higher education. She's also working very hard, as hard as you do when your future depends on it. Because it does. She and thousands of others like her get one chance at this. And what's happening could seriously adversely affect their career, to say nothing of their pension. 

I have nothing but sympathy for the lecturers or indeed for anyone faced with a similar pension shortfall. And as I've said, I have nothing whatever against taking industrial action. Indeed, neither have they because at the same institution to which I refer, the one my daughter attends (and which had better remain nameless) many of the said lecturers are NOT taking action - those teaching medicine, for example, and engineering. 

But I do strongly object to the effect it's having on those students whose one chance this is, who have worked damned hard and who are paying a premium for something they're not getting. 

Of course, the lecturers want to create an impact. They need to cause disruption to get noticed. And they have been. (Although it's telling that my wife hadn't - until the other day - even heard of the dispute.)

But there are other means, perhaps more high profile, and certainly less damaging. I don't tune in the BBC Radio Four on Thursday mornings and hear Melvin Bragg announcing that In Our Time has been cancelled because no lecturers will appear. I don't see academics appearing any less frequently on telly. (Yes, I know what we're seeing now will have been recorded months ago but that still leaves the programmes currently being made.) And are they all crashing their publisher's deadlines, or boycotting the prestigious academic journals that publish their research papers?

Probably not. Because, of course, they're not in dispute with the BBC or with their publishers.

They're not in dispute with their students, either - students whose future they are jeopardising. 

Students who are paying for a service they're not getting. 

And who aren't getting any refunds, either.

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