Yesterday evening, a student protest was organised demanding tuition fee refunds as a result of cancelled teaching hours due to UCU industrial action. The protest was directed at Vice Chancellor Peter Mathieson, who at the time of the protest was present at his introductory event, Principal’s Town Hall, at McEwan Hall.
Ben Jones, a masters student reading International Development with African studies, spoke to The Student, explaining the purpose of the demonstration within the context of the UCU strike actions:
“Just like [working staff with] their contract expecting to have continuity throughout, but taking action when it did change, we are taking action, as our experience completely changed.”
Ben, along with Andrew Ellison and Toluwa Oyeleye, led the protest in front of McEwan Hall, along with the rest of the protesters. They demanded for a 12 per cent reimbursement of tuition fees for all students, as well as a reimbursement of one month’s worth of accommodation prices.
When asked about these demands, Ben responded that they definitely were not arbitrary. The figures, he says, take into account the days missed, lectures missed, contact hours missed as well as the “premium prices [one] pays to live here”, not knowing whether to go home or stay as strike action plans were, if not unclear, left ambiguous.
Although all students’ courses were affected differently, he himself calculated a loss of 20 per cent of hours missed in the pursuit of his masters, the figures were calculated as an average.
A university spokesperson, when asked about any advancements or methods by which a student could formally obtain information regarding the matter, said that like many universities, the University of Edinburgh has yet to announce their policies on the matter, as they have a “number of issues to take into account”. These include, as aforementioned, the varying effects of the strike, which the university administration is currently “gathering data on”, particularly, on “[its] impact across the many different courses, and on the extent to which the implications of cancelled lectures and classes have been mitigated”.
In addition, they mentioned that university services, paid for by student fees, such as the “library, IT, student services and so on” have been open throughout the period of the strikes. Finally, they mentioned that “any policy on refunds requires careful consideration of the way that different groups of students at the university are funded”, as Scottish and EU student fees are paid for by the government of Scotland, English students may be funded through loans, and that some international students may be financially supported by either loans or scholarships.
For many students who are self-funded, however, the need for immediate action and clear communication has never been more present. Anne-Laure Rajaona, a second year student of Economics and Politics, commented that the university’s lack of specificity is “spitting on so many people’s efforts to get make sure [she gets] the education [she wants]” , as it is not just a struggle for herself, but her parents in Madagascar, to invest in paying her tuition fees.
Tea Myftaraj, a second year reading Sociology, agrees – “the mission of the university is the curation, dissemination, and creation of knowledge, and I feel like this semester we haven’t been given that,” she said, “the mission has failed.”
For postgraduate students, who will be going on to work-based activities next year, the urgency for university action is even more dire as rumours that withheld salaries of striking lecturers going towards “student experience” dissipate across campus. The university spokesperson, however, mentioned that mature students are indeed a priority in their search for reasonable mitigation.
The UCU strike action, albeit causing the need for a reactionary “refund strike”, is not a movement which is mutually exclusive from the latter. According to Ben, the students asking for refunds are not at all working against the striking staff, but alongside of them. “When you are unfairly treated, you need to take action”, he told The Student.
Many other protesters sharing their stories mentioned their explicit support for the striking staff, and the possibility of the two groups working together even more closely linked to push towards a fair deal for all parties involved. University administration, although seemingly active on the matter, is still to specifically state what that solution may be.
Image: Paola Lindo