Scally Mag – Liverpool University Strike: A Message From A Final Year Student

A Liverpool University student shares their thoughts on the institution’s decision to cut staff, and the implications this may have…

Cross-posted from Scally Mag

BRAVE NEW EUROPE would like to encourage you not only to show your solidarity with the strike, but to support it financially. The donations will go to help all those members staying out on strike, but especially those who really need it. BRAVE NEW EUROPE has already donated to the strike fund and urge you to do the same. Donate here.

My three years studying at the University of Liverpool have come to a close and I’m proud to have called this fantastic city my home. I always envisaged that I’d end my time here with a love letter to the city, an ode to our university life, but instead I feel compelled to raise awareness of how university management are treating staff and students.

It is precisely because I love this city and I’m grateful to the staff and friends who have supported me in Liverpool, that I need to write this.

So here today, as a student graduating into a very precarious job market, I want to highlight how we have been treated, and why our anger should be directed solely at management.

A vanity project

There have been numerous articles highlighting the contempt with which Liverpool’s management treat their staff – this isn’t up for debate. But it’s worth touching on the context of the current strike, so students understand why staff have taken the difficult decision to embark on industrial action.

The current dispute is over a management vanity project that is seeking to make world leading academics redundant, including those doing vital research on COVID19 and cancer, amongst other pertinent issues. Yet, these valuable staff have been individually earmarked as expendable, via false metrics. This practice is called ‘rank and yank’ and it’s not even used by companies such as Amazon anymore – yet our university sees it appropriate to roll out.

The timing of this attack on staff jobs is particularly callous: redundancies during a global pandemic. A global pandemic in which staff & students have worked incredibly hard, under immense pressure.

Meanwhile, the architect of the redundancies, Louise Kenny, recently sold her mansion for €3.25 million and the Vice Chancellor’s £410,000 salary (which excludes expenses!) remains 20 times that of the university’s lowest paid worker.

How are management helping students through the crisis they created?

Devaluing our degrees.

The university is proposing to mitigate the impacts of industrial action by undermining university degrees. The university normally enforces its Code of Practice on Assessment to the letter and at times to our detriment (there is never any leeway if a student submits their essay even 1 minute late). However the university is throwing this out of the window to suit them, to try and break the strike and throw our degrees under the bus in the process. This means that despicable management decisions, which have already significantly disrupted students’ learning conditions, are now set to directly impact our futures too. It’s worth noting that the impacts faced by Liverpool’s students are so far reaching that I only have space to discuss a few examples here. Take this as emblematic of how deep-rooted these issues are in the institution.

Impact on current students

Following the A-Level fiasco of 2020, many of our first years came to university having not been assessed fairly. As it stands, the university is happily allowing these students to finish their first year with no tangible learning benchmarks, feedback or accreditations. The consequences of this for students moving forward in their studies will be significant.

As students we are acutely aware of how competitive the job market is, the anxiety of post-university life weighs heavily on so many of us. Questions will inevitably be raised by employers who look at our degrees if they originate from a university who seemingly ‘waved students through’ without due process.

Students graduating this year are set to receive partial marks – this is a direct result of management failing to retract threats to staff’s jobs. Whilst management are looking to sweep this issue under the carpet, implementing this new process quietly, graduate employers and other institutions looking at our transcripts will not.

The end result? Our degrees will have less credibility than those at other universities, who are our ‘competitors’ in the job market, despite us doing the same amount of work.

This latter point will hurt the most for 3rd year undergraduates. It is well known that students perform best at the end of their third year, those of us who have been there can attest to this unequivocally. Yet, for Liverpool’s third years, their hard work will be rendered obsolete as management are set to ‘approximate’ grades based on previous semesters. So in practical terms this means that students will likely miss out on firsts and 2:1s if they are borderline. The whole notion of seeing the 70% weighted third year modules ‘pull your final grade up’ is thrown out the window. Third year dissertations will not be properly marked which means that future employers and postgraduate courses will question their legitimacy.

Now management will use their classic divide and rule tactic of positioning staff on strike as the enemy here, but in reality this very wealthy institution has the opportunity to save staff jobs and honour their students hard work, they are just choosing not to.

Extenuating circumstances (ECs)

This past year has taken physical and emotional tolls on so many of us. Students have shifted to online learning, often working and living cramped conditions away from family and friends, isolating in small rooms with no outdoor space.

Many fellow students will be aware of the arduous process which comes with applying for ECs, which is part of the Code of Practice on Assessment that the university normally adheres to. This process sees us go to great lengths to prove our need for additional support. ECs are applied after assessments and exams are submitted, meaning that in the current situation, this was all a waste of time and energy because all degrees are being approximated by the same measures. As such, no individual circumstances are being taken into account.

Here we quite literally see management reproducing educational inequality amongst their own student body.

Impact for students on accredited courses

Many students come to Liverpool because courses are accredited by professional bodies, a pre-requisite for those seeking a career in the field beyond undergraduate studies. Accreditation also means course quality is independently checked by said bodies.

For example, Liverpool’s popular Psychology courses are accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). The BPS outline the required staff:student ratio for undergraduate courses, which impacts course breadth, depth and student research opportunities. Under the current plans, which sees staff slashed from the department, this accreditation is under jeopardy. Without graduating from an accredited course, students cannot become Chartered Psychologists or apply for postgraduate clinical psychology training. This yet another example of the ways in which reckless management decisions will serve to significantly narrow the career path of students.

What can students do to resist this?

We must confront the fact that without resisting this process, we risk going into our careers worrying that our degree is seen as less reputable than others.

As students we must call on the management, even at this late stage, to not only see sense, but remember the claimed ethics and principles of the academy they are supposed to be running. We, the students and staff, are the university.

So whilst I’ll miss that wave of warmth that comes over me when the train pulls into Lime Street and the happiness that is that first glimpse of the Victoria building as I walk up Brownlow Hill, but now I leave with a heavy heart. I leave knowing that the University I was once proud to attend has devalued the work of staff and students, whilst securing profitable futures for its management.

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