Durham Students’ Union opposes UCU marking boycott

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Durham Student’s Union (DSU) have confirmed that they will not be supporting the upcoming marking and assessment boycott announced by the University and College Union (UCU) earlier this week.

In a statement released yesterday (28th), DSU officers explained, “We understand why industrial action has to be taken once again, and we continue to offer our support for our staff in their fights. However, we cannot support the proposed tactic of a marking boycott. The potential disruption to our students is too great and we believe it is not in their best interests to face delays in getting results and feedback.”

DSU officers levelled criticism at Durham University as well as national employer bodies, saying “We know this is not a decision that academic staff will make lightly, knowing the disruption a marking boycott could cause, but our frustration is directed at the University.

“Their continued failure to act upon the issues raised by striking staff affects all of us in this community, and we demand a resolution is found before a marking boycott has to be put in place.” 

They called directly on the University to “return to negotiations and meaningfully discuss the issues their staff are facing.”

“We demand a resolution is found before a marking boycott has to be put in place”

Durham Student’s Union

The University declined to on DSU’s statement, but says on its website that “Whilst we appreciate that the decision to take part in industrial action has not been taken lightly by our staff, we are concerned about any impact upon our students’ education.  It is our priority to mitigate the impact of industrial action on our students.”

Last term the Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen O’Brien held a forum to discuss issues of pensions, pay and workload with members of staff, including representatives from Durham UCU.

In recent weeks the University has also announced changes to its pay-grade system with the aim of supporting staff on the lowest pay grades following agreements with Durham trade unions. From 1st May the University’s minimum pay will rise from £9.66 to £10 per hour, which is above minimum wage.

DSU’s position on marking boycotts remains unchanged from 2014, which was the last time a boycott took place at the University. DSU have thus far supported UCU members in their decision to conduct industrial action and carry out Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) this academic year. In February, SU officers wrote to Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen O’Brien “asking her to do all she can to end this current wave of industrial action”.

In contrast to DSU, Durham University Labour Club (DULC) has pledged their support for staff undertaking the marking boycott, saying “Be under no illusion, blame lies solely and entirely on the doorstep of the management, who have time and time again refused to show workers at our universities basic dignity and respect. We have nothing but solidarity with [Durham UCU] who’ve been left with absolutely no alternative”.

DULC has also expressed discontent with the DSU’s position tweeting: “After all the support the UCU have given the student movement, this is a deeply disappointing statement”.

Across the wider student body there has been a mixed reaction to the announcement of a marking boycott, with many students turning to Twitter to share their views. One student reacted by saying “Just what I want to hear ahead of my resit exam next month!”, while another tweeted “A marking boycott will have an unacceptable impact on students and I don’t think the DSU should support it. Many students have thus far supported (or at least sympathised with) strikes. I can’t see many supporting this”.

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