Editorial: Higher education is in crisis, the University must act

By Jeevan Farthing and Niamh Flanagan

The decisions of administration this academic year will be fundamental to the student experience.

Freshers’ week is once more upon us at the University of Glasgow, and with it comes for many of you a fresh start – perhaps you’re a fresher leaving your hometown to embark upon your university journey, or a returning student moving into the next phase of your academic career. Unfortunately, as we embrace the new beginnings that September offers, students and staff alike are unable to leave behind the controversies, challenges and injustices that all too frequently characterised the UofG experience in the past year. 

Firstly, we envisage that campus will still be full to bursting. Perhaps there’ll be more lectures in churches, where sometimes the projector fails, or the WiFi comes and goes, and four hundred of you have to annotate on your notes app, by ear, in an echo chamber. God forbid the queue for Greggs on Byres Road snakes onto neighbouring streets as it did last year, and the availability of vegan sausage rolls becomes a lottery, such is the sheer pressure of environmentally conscious students on Glasgow’s packed and polluted West End. Let’s hope we can avoid the stress of every booth on Level 8 in the library being occupied by 10am, so you have to interrupt the person in the middle of revising for their medicine finals to charge your too large laptop.

The University is, of course, expanding ever further westwards, but whether the array of shiny new buildings occupying the approach to Partick can relieve the stresses on timetablers, staff and students remains to be seen. Such stresses were so significant that last year, the Student Representative Council (SRC) established a ‘Cap Student Numbers Now!’ campaign, demanding that the university press pause on their trajectory of admitting ever-larger cohorts of freshers. The University’s response was largely positive, although the growth in the last few years has been so rapid, so significant, that its consequences will not just disappear into thin air.

Arguably the most persistent of the multiple shadows looming large over the University administration is the ongoing dispute with the University and College Union (UCU) – which this summer culminated in the much-debated marking boycott that saw thousands of students graduate without a degree classification, in a zero-sum lottery that symbolised the dysfunction integral to the employer-worker dynamics here at the University of Glasgow and beyond. Indeed, huge swathes of last year’s final year student population are still awaiting classification and other crucial assessment feedback. Higher education staff have been striking since 2018, and a lack of productive accommodation from the University administration has forced overworked and underpaid faculty members to continue to escalate action. The UCU reports that unless the employer body, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), agrees to resume negotiations, strike action will be taken before the end of this month to renew the UCU mandate in the pay and conditions dispute. With the UCEA docking the pay of staff involved in the ongoing marking boycott, relations look set to worsen, and disruption to students is likely to continue into 2024.

The prevalence of teaching staff working on casualised contracts, which don’t pay them for the hours needed to do their job diligently, was just one of the issues which The Glasgow Guardian covered extensively last year. We were proud to celebrate our 90th anniversary by continuing to print physical copies of our newspaper, laden with exclusive content. From exposing an expenses scandal, voicing the despair and dismay of homeless students, scrutinising the university’s response to the Ross Report on gender-based violence, or supporting the Harry’s Law campaign – which aims to compel universities to release statistics on student suicides after 21-year old Harry Armstrong Evans, studying at the University of Exeter, tragically took his own life – as a newspaper we are committed to thorough, searching investigative journalism, always remaining on the side of students as we do it.

There is no better time than freshers’ week to get involved with us. Our news stories remain the backbone of what we do, but the newspaper also boasts a flourishing opinion section, and extensive coverage of Glasgow’s cultural and sporting events. Perhaps you’re a student living at still home, itching to review the screenings at the Glasgow Film Festival you’ve been attending assiduously for years. Maybe you’re from a marginalised background, and putting pen to paper (or, more likely, keyboard to laptop) is the most powerful and effective way to document your life experiences. You might just love writing, anything and everything, like you did when you were at school. Either way, we want to hear from you. In fact, any registered student is more than welcome to write for us. This year we’ve changed things up, modifying what was previously our Features section to focus exclusively on Profile pieces, because interview journalism can be so insightful. Through our brand new Environment section we will have dedicated content each edition on the climate emergency, because we recognise it as something all of us should care passionately about. We are determined to remain inclusive and welcoming at our weekly contributors’ meetings on Thursday evenings (which we’d love you to come along to!), but we are students, just like you, who want to have fun and loosen up. At our post-meeting socials we often sample one of the wonderful pubs in the West End, because this is a thriving, bustling city with world-class establishments on our doorstep. 

Ultimately, the University of Glasgow is a place that welcomes and nurtures the kind of “world-changing” the prospectus proudly boasts. The city is one of endless opportunity and potential – speaking from experience there are few places as enriching to spend your time as an undergraduate – and you all, freshers and returning students alike, should be enthused by the prospect of what the year ahead may bring. Nonetheless, the 2023/2024 academic year represents something of a cliff-edge for the future of higher education. In the context of a nationwide cost-of-living crisis, the ongoing Glasgow housing emergency, the gridlocked employer-worker relations in higher education and the worsening state of mental health services for young people as NHS wait times soar, we must demand better from our education providers. Better, more affordable accommodation. Better pastoral care and wellbeing services. Better pay and conditions for staff. Better recognition of the steps needed to be taken to address the disturbing findings of the Ross Report. As your editors we haven’t penned this somewhat bleak editorial to cast a dark cloud over the impending freshers fun – but to reassure you that here at The Glasgow Guardian we intend to hold the administration to account for the experiences of us all – students and staff alike. As the University administration continues to dismiss and neglect its students, and antagonise and ostracise faculty, it would do well to remember that without students, and without staff, there is no University of Glasgow.


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