Students’ Union votes against free education motion, condemns academic boycott

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The Durham Students’ Union rejected a motion calling for the Union to support free education for students and condemned the academic boycott on Thursday evening.

The vote for free education — which also called for the President and Academic Affairs Officer to lobby the Vice-Chancellor to support free education — came after a spirited debate in Assembly.

It failed by 11 votes to 13 with four members abstaining.

William Pinkey-Baird, the proposer of the motion, was absent and so it was proposed by Jamie Penston Raja.

Supporters of the motion said tuition fees damage the ability of students to study and hurt their lives after university.

They also discussed problems with interest rates on loans and a tendency for higher fees to impact those from lower socio-economic backgrounds more severely.

Many audience members on the opposite side, however, questioned the ability of the UK government to handle increased spending on education fees.

Students’ Union President, Dan Slavin argued against increased taxation to fund student fees. He voted against the motion calling for free education.

A representative for Hatfield JCR also argued against the motion, saying that after the introduction of tuition fees, the number of student applying to university have not fallen.

The proposer questioned this, arguing that mature student applications and part-time applications have, in fact, fallen.

The motion failed.

Equally controversial was the discussion of the academic marking boycott.

The motion proposed: “To mandate the President to lobby the local UCU branch to not take part in the marking boycott; to mandate the Academic Affairs Officer and President to lobby the University to help bring a speedy resolution to the dispute; to mandate the Academic Affairs Officer and the President to lobby the Durham UCU Branch to bring the resolution to a speedy resolution; to mandate the Academic Affairs Officer and President to lobby the University to ensure the potential impacts are clearly communicated.

Academic Affairs Officer Leigh Spanner introduced a motion condemning the boycott on the grounds that it was unnecessarily harmful to students.

She told Assembly: “Approve the motion and students will benefit…
She added: “We will be lobbying for there to be a resolution to this that benefits all parties involved.”

Hundreds of thousands of academics across the UK have joined the marking boycott — meaning that they will not mark exams or essays or give feedback to students — over a pension dispute.

Discussion from the floor was heated, with one member arguing: “I’m glad that you agree with their demands, but then why on earth are you not supporting it?”

“Why, as a student Union, are we attacking the [University and College Union which supports the academic boycott] on this?”

Debate focussed on the role that the Students’ Union has in supporting student needs over academic concerns.

The motion to condemn the marking boycott passed. 17 members voted to condemn the marking boycott and six voted against.

Harry Cross, co-chair of Durham Students for University Reform told Palatinate after the debate: “I didn’t vote for Dan Slavin [who voted to condemn the boycott] for this. Many students presented opposed the motion but did not have voting rights and were very angry to see it passed.

“It was a travesty and I would have never expected such mean-spiritedness from my union.”

A motion subsidising a coach for protesters to attend a free education demonstration in London on 19 November was withdrawn by the proposer.

The Students’ Union finally voted to pressure the University to sever its connections with G4S, after campaigners.

The agenda for the Assembly meeting can be found here.

Check back with Palatinate for continuing coverage.

Image courtesy of: Durham University

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