By James Poole
The Students’ Union voted against supporting a national marking boycott at an Assembly meeting last Thursday.
The boycott, which began on 6th November and is due to finish today, has seen academic staff refuse to mark summative assignments or give feedback to students in a bid to improve their pension scheme.
Hundreds of thousands of academics from across the UK are taking part in the boycott, although it remains unclear how many Durham University members of staff are involved.
Leigh Spanner, the Academic Affairs Officer at Durham Students’ Union, told Palatinate:
“The marking boycott is clearly not in students’ interest. Assembly as a whole, which is made up of a broad cross-section of our members, who are elected to represent the views of all students, sets the policy of the Union.
“Whilst we believe that all workers should have access to a fair pension, we cannot support a course of action that would be detrimental to our own members.
“The Students’ Union is in close communications with the University to establish how widespread this action is and how much it is affecting students. We have information available on our website, which we will be regularly updating.”
Alicia Kenshole, a 3rd year student at St. Aidan’s, expressed her anger at the Union’s move to condemn the boycott, telling Palatinate:
“I feel that it is a very surface solution to condemn the boycott. While it may fix things in the short term for student experience, I believe this decision could have long-term, negative impacts. If lecturers become demoralised, over-worked, and angry, our experience will suffer as a result.
“While others in the private sector, some just run-of-the-mill target achievers, get bonuses, our lecturers are met with pay that has not risen with the cost of inflation, a higher workload for less pay, and an overstretching of resources. ‘
“This boycott is for the security of their pensions and I really believe they have more than the right to demand this of the University.”
“I believe students should get angry, but not at the lecturers. The lecturers are still turning up to work, carrying out their research, and taking lectures and tutorials.”
Harry Cross, also a 3rd year at St. Aidan’s, expressed a similar view, saying:
“I didn’t vote for Dan Slavin [who voted to condemn the boycott] for this.
“It was a tragedy and I would never have expected such mean-spiritedness from my union.
“The DSU Officers were clearly only thinking of student interests in the shortest possible term. The mild inconvenience of not receiving marks on essays is nothing compared to how student life will suffer if talented people are not motivated to take up careers in academia because they cannot secure a fair pension.”
When asked what advice the University has for students affected by the boycott, Professor Ray Hudson, the Acting Vice-Chancellor, told Palatinate:
“If students are affected by the assessment boycott, they should raise the issue with their student representative and the student representatives should raise the matter with their head of department. The University will then seek to do what it can to mitigate the adverse effects.”
“The University is naturally disappointed that the University and College Union (UCU) took the decision to ballot their members, and secured a majority for both strike action and action short of a strike.
“We do, however, understand the strength of feeling and levels of concern of our staff about the changes being proposed to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. It is important to realise that we, as the employer, have no sway with regards to securing an outcome to the national negotiations relating to the USS changes.
“The University hopes that the impact on students of UCU’s industrial action can be minimised and that the dispute can be resolved quickly. It is in everyone’s best interests for this to be the case.”
Illustration: Mariam Hayat