As you are most likely aware, recently damaging cuts on university lecturers’ pensions were proposed, which led to a protest in the form of a marking boycott. This marking strike began on the 16th of November 2014, from which date no assignments or exams were to be marked by staff members, in the 69 participating universities.
Thankfully, on the 20th of November, after the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK) agreed to a series of negotiating meetings, the strike was suspended until January. This boycott, which caused varying degrees of anger, confusion and upset amongst students, was branded a ‘damaging course of industrial action aimed directly at disrupting students’ education’ by Universities UK.
This, of course, is an understandable response. For a university student who pays nine thousand pounds a year for a degree, having your education interrupted in any way is stressful and worrying. Indeed, some students even felt the marking boycott was punishing them for matters outside of their control.
However, I think it is important to try not to let the strike action negatively impact upon staff student relations as it detracts from the issue in hand and only leads to unnecessary animosity.
What can be done?
Communication, information and transparency are chiefly important practices to employ in order to maintain harmonious staff student relations during strike action.
I, personally, have really appreciated the efforts of those lecturers who have taken to the time to express their honest opinions on the strike, answer students’ questions and encourage student representatives to voice the views of students at meetings. This sort of mutual respect and solidarity is heartening and prevents students from feeling alienated from university staff. Equally, it is completely reasonable for students to feel strongly about the quality of their education being jeopardised and being vocal about the inconveniences strike action causes students, as well as staff, may actually provide more fuel for protests.
Marking boycott versus teaching strike
Some university staff members who participated in the strike action are justifiably very conflicted about the marking boycott, particularly because many universities docked or even suspended their wages while the boycott continued.
However, on the bright side, lectures and seminars have not been affected by the strikes, meaning the strike hasn’t prevented students from being taught all the content they need to progress in their studies. Evidently a university degree is not all about assessment. The various strikes which took place during the last academic year, which led to lectures and seminars being cancelled, were more disruptive than the most recent marking boycott, especially when lecturers failed to compensate for the lost contact hours by recording, rescheduling or writing up lecture notes.
What happens next?
Thankfully, university staff members and students alike can breathe a sigh of relief as lecturers are now able to resume marking assessments and providing feedback, while we all wait and see how the negotiating meetings go.
The general feeling among students is definitely one of relief but also an uncertainty about the extent of the after effects of this boycott. But for now all we can do is keep the lines of communication open, keep speaking up about how strike action in educational institutions affects us and try our best to maintain harmonious staff student relations amidst the disruption.