It seems like pretty much every week I’m writing about this, doesn’t it?
I’ve long seen the current dispute between University staff and their employers as being one of the most damaging in recent educational times – it’s just a depressing show of money-grabbing, budget cuts and serious questions about the way universities are operated.
I have, however, always been confident that at some point someone would compromise and make a decision that would mean student’s education doesn’t go completely down the pan.
That was, until I saw the latest salvo fired by one side.
This week the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) announced that unless the situation over pay is resolved, they will boycott all marking of coursework, dissertations and examinations, starting April 28th. This is being described as ‘the ultimate sanction’ by the Union as they continue to reject the 1% pay rise given to their staff by universities and colleges up and down the country. Their argument is that, thanks to inflation and a difficult economic climate, the pay rise represents a 13% pay cut in real terms over the last four years.
The body responsible for negotiating the pay rates on behalf of universities is the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and they have consistently refused to budge on this offer. They have said that the campaign has ‘dwindling support’ and that any staff that take part in this risk a full withdrawl of their pay.
This has to be the killer blow to Universities up and down the country. All of a sudden it’s not just disruption to lectures and seminars, but now the student’s actual work – the product of these lectures and seminars – that might go untouched.
It is relatively easy to re-schedule lectures and seminars for another date if there is industrial action. Naturally, this will depend on the course type and the nature of the work done, but in general students and lecturers will be able to catch up. However, the boycotting of marking carries a much more serious premise to it: it actually stops students from graduating and delays students from progressing between levels in their degree.
Perhaps the hardest-hit will be the final year students, who now face uncertainty over if they’ll actually graduate on time to start a new job or career. Employers aren’t going to be pleased if there are delays, especially if they’ve signed up a handful of fresh-faced graduates, subject to their results.
Ultimately, this is a complete disgrace and I know exactly where I’ll be pointing my criticism at. The lack of respect for university employees by the UCEA has been appalling in recent times and represents some stunning mismanagment and hypocrisy on a level I haven’t seen in a long time.
The only reaction from the UCEA has been to dispute the figure (claiming pay rises are around 3% in practice) and sweep the issue under the rug, stating that the UCU should focus on next year’s pay negotiations, which are scheduled to start in March. Another callous tactic has been to laugh off the previous walkouts performed by staff, claiming they have had little or no effect – maybe they should actually visit universities and colleges at such times and see the frustration among students.
One particular quote caught my eye, and that was from the UCEA who say that they are disappointed that the boycott will be “aimed directly at student’s education.”
Hmmm, I was wondering who else it was going to take aim at? If the UCEA isn’t going to listen, then who else are the UCU going to aim at? That’s like doctors going on strike over working conditions and hospital management claiming they’re disappointed because patients are going to be affected. Really doesn’t take a genius to work that out.
All at this comes at a time when the people at the top of the chain are taking home comfortable pay packets and wage increases – the UCU claim that Vice-Chancellors are taking a 5% pay rise this year. If true, that would make their average pay nearly an incredible quarter of a million pounds a year. And somehow this is justified in the UCEA’s books.
Classic elitist idea – pay the people at the top the most and make everyone else struggle. Not to say that VC’s don’t deserve this, but it’s obvious that things have to change if the other 99% are finding it hard to make ends meet.
UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt has said that “The strong support for our action so far demonstrates how angry staff are at the hypocrisy over pay in our universities… The employers cannot plead poverty when it comes to staff pay and then awards enormous rises to a handful at the top… A marking boycott is the ultimate sanction, but an avoidable one if the employers would negotiate with us over pay.”
I get the feeling the Ms Hunt is going to be someone we’ll hear from a lot more in the future. With the face of education changing rapidly, things are getting a little uncertain. Therefore, it’s with good reason someone stands up.
Consider this: my girlfriend has to hand in her dissertation in less than a month and will have another piece of work due in a month later. Results are due four/six weeks later on after that. Imagine getting them delayed…
I will have one more year left, stating in September. Whilst I don’t think I will opt for a dissertation, I will have projects, exams and assignments to complete. Getting them delayed because universities and colleges cannot even negotiate directly and see the pain of the staff, let alone get their representative body to get a fair deal hammered out… That would sum everything up for me. I’d be utterly livid.
Universities and the UCEA need to pull their head of the sand and be more reasonable. On a similar note, Student Unions up and down the nation have got to stop blaming the staff and realise they are getting a poor deal. I have seen many Unions criticising staff for their walkouts, simply because of the damage it does to student’s education. Perhaps you need to support the staff too – they’re getting a raw deal.
Please everyone, sort your priorities out.
I appreciate this is a difficult subject to discuss, given the pressure some students are under at present time. It might not appear a popular opinion of mine.
If your results are at risk or you’re concerned, let us know.