University education has become a product – priced, packaged and distributed en-masse. But what happens if the product we get isn’t what we were promised? The recent attack on teachers’ pensions and University UK’s reluctance to compromise has triggered nationwide strikes over the next four weeks. If the strikes go ahead, it will result in the loss of a colossal amount of valuable teaching time for students across the UK, time that was promised and paid for.
A petition by Robyn Arthey, a student at SOAS, which has garnered almost 1,600 signatures in two weeks demands a refund to students for classes missed during the strike. Similar petitions have started up at universities across the country including KCL and City, here in London.
“We fully support the staff strike at SOAS,” the petition reads, “But, in addition to this we believe that we are entitled to a refund from management for the classes that will not be taught.”
Soas Masters student Zain asserted his support and added that “It’s SOAS’s duty to ensure that academics are being paid properly and fairly including fractionals. At the same time if SOAS is not living up to that… and we lose our lessons as a result, SOAS students deserve to be paid back for the lessons that we are missing.”
If we go on about the prices we’re just buying into the marketisation of education
It’s a fair appraisal. The concept of such a refund seems to be a clear consequence of deliberately transforming students into consumers and education into a packaged product. However, according to Student A (who preferred not to be named), the demand functions at a deeper level: it’s a way for students to crank up the pressure on management and thus support the teachers’ strike. “Appealing to the pockets of the uni is probably unfortunately the only way we (students) can do this,” she argued. So not only is the demand for a refund a way to reclaim what is owed to students, but also a means of standing in solidarity with striking teachers.
Amy, a 2nd year Anthropology student, however, expressed concern about the petition, and that it might divide teachers and students. “I worry it takes away the focus of why the professors are doing it and think it would be better to get to the reasons of why they’re doing it more, and create unity, because if we go on about the prices we’re just buying into the marketisation of education.” She pauses a moment, and admits: “But I signed it anyway.”
UCL Masters student Diego agreed that it was problematic to normalise the monetisation of education and that “asking for a refund is acknowledging that it’s valid that you’re paying fees… the real fight should be free education.”
In general however, students agree that it would be fair to get some money back, but few are very hopeful. For many, like Amy, signing the petition is also a means of expressing exasperation at the university system. The vast majority of students understand and support their striking teachers, but also feel cheated out of something they’ve worked hard for and will likely still have to pay for: their education.