By Michelle Coull

You can pretty much guarantee nobody’s happy about the lecturers’ strike at 61 universities across the United Kingdom. The management of the institutions are left in a bind and the lecturers, with the backing of their union, are standing up for their principles but being hit in the pocket. And the students? Well, they are missing out on valuable time in class in the run-up to their finals.

At Edinburgh University, students have started up a petition demanding compensation. They say the 14 days of strike action, which begin today (Thursday), make up 10 per cent of their contact time with lecturers. They understand why the lecturers are angry, but students who have had to pay tuition fees feel they should be reimbursed.

While there is damage being done to their education and possibly to their future prospects, the extraordinary industrial action could also hit student recruitment at the universities involved.

After all, if these venerable institutions can’t get their current crop of young learners through their degree untrammelled, what message does that send out to the 17 and 18-year-olds beavering away on their personal statements for those all-important UCAS applications due in June? There’s a similar case to be made by undergraduates considering applying for post-graduate studies. They’ll be asking: “Why start there if I might not get to finish?”

University recruitment has a huge digital focus, so each institutions’ responses online are going to be critical as prospective students – and, as importantly, their parents – will be watching. They have got be open about the problems their current students are facing and ensure they support to the young people. Importantly, responses to queries online shouldn’t be impersonal and standardised, but genuine.

In the days when Twitter is where younger people go to moan, the universities will find they have to pay special attention to Facebook. With its older demographic, mums and dads are more likely to head there to put in their tuppence-worth.

Above all, the universities have to maintain a reassuring tone. There was a remarkable example of this came out of the University of Glasgow in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in June 2016.

There were immediate concerns about the future of European Union students studying there and at other universities following the decision to leave the EU. But Glasgow’s then-vice principal Sir Anton Muscatelli stepped up to the mark, saying European students should still get free tuition at Scottish universities even after Brexit removes the legal obligation to do so.

By doing that, he clearly put students, and prospective students, first and underlined their value to his institution and to the economy of the country.

Now, I feel for everyone involved in the industrial action. There are no winners as long as the lecturers are out on the picket lines. I’ve known people who have been on strike – it is plainly a decision that no one takes lightly.

I hope, for everyone’s sake, and especially for the learners now and in the future, that a compromise can be reached.

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