Strikes and the pandemic

New, a month-long strike started again in the middle of the semester. Unfortunately, as a humanities student I am used to this. A strike brings on a completely new regime of self-study. I get up every morning, go to the library, and search for the topics and readings I need to catch up. Both lectures and tutorials are cancelled and so all studying is completely reliant on me. It can be freeing. You get to decide what to do, make your own study schedule, and prioritize the topics that are the most pressing. On the other hand, it is quite tiring. All learning is dependant on you alone. During a strike, the lecturers and tutors on strike are not allowed to answer emails from students and their consultation hours are cancelled. So, if you have any questions about the covered topics, they will remain unanswered until the end of the strike. And while students promise to form study groups at the beginning of the strike, they often fall apart after the first week. This is how the strike rids you of two main components of university education: expertise and knowledge of the educators, and the discussion with other students.

I have experienced three strikes during my three years at the University of Edinburgh. The first one was also a month-long strike and happened in my first year. Back then, such a strike was a big deal. It involved almost all universities across the country and the union hoped for good results. Unfortunately, not much has improved in the treatment of the university staff and therefore more strikes were scheduled.

What made this strike stand out from the others is its unfortunate timing.  When the strike was due to stop, and everything was meant to go back to normal, the university decided to close its door due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And so even after a month of disrupted teaching, we could not return to school. After a while, a fairly limited online teaching was established. Due to the pandemic a lot of ongoing projects had to be cancelled, and students’ projects and research that was meant to happen in summer had its ethical permissions retracted. Research had to be reoriented on topics that do not requite human to human interaction.

This semester became the most disrupted semester of my university education so far. From eleven weeks of teaching this semester, I only received five. In a third, ´honours´ year, such disruption is quite important. Despite these struggles, most students are continuing with their research and studies, and are hoping that their last year of university will be carried out in full.

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