Huge student 'no' to boycott

五月 5, 2006

Sympathy over academic pay fails to translate into support for union methods, reports Jessica Shepherd

Almost eight out of ten students oppose the boycott of exams and coursework called by the academic unions as part of their pay dispute, the first national poll of student attitudes to the lecturers' action has revealed.

The findings fly in the face of claims by the National Union of Students that a growing number of undergraduates support action short of a strike.

The survey of 1,007 students across the country found widespread sympathy for lecturers' demands for higher pay - but not if this meant that exams would suffer as a result.

The findings emerged as university employers this week agreed to formal pay talks with lecturers' unions and promised a more generous pay offer.

The survey found that 77 per cent of students opposed union members' refusal to mark and, in some cases, set work from this month.

But the study, carried out last month by Opinionpanel, found that 68 per cent of those quizzed said that, industrial action aside, they supported academics' claims for higher salaries.

Gaston Dolle, president of Bristol University student union, said: "The NUS is woefully out of touch with its membership's opinion on the Association of University Teachers' assessment boycott.

"[AUT general secretary] Sally Hunt's methods are not only undermining years of a close relationship with students, but forcing lecturers to take a much harder line of action than we suspect they wish to."

Kat Fletcher, NUS president, said the poll did not give students a context in which to properly consider the questions.

She said: "This poll asked two simplistic questions with no reference to key facts such as the 25 per cent increase in vice-chancellors' pay and the promise for more pay that was made to lecturers during the White Paper debate. Had students been given that context, the survey may have elicited a different response."

But she acknowledged that some students strongly opposed the boycott. She said: "We urge both sides to do everything within their power, however difficult, to get back around the table."

The survey found 79 per cent of female students and 76 per cent of male students disagreed with the assessment boycott.

Those at Russell Group and pre-92 universities were more likely to side with lecturers' demands for higher pay, industrial action aside.

While 73 per cent of students from Russell Group universities came out in favour of the demands for more pay, just 62 per cent from post-92 universities did so.

Ms Hunt and Roger Kline, head of universities at Natfhe, said they were not surprised that students were frustrated.

Ms Hunt said: "We share the concerns, fears and anger of students that the pay dispute is being dragged out.

"We are not surprised that they are finding the boycott difficult, so are AUT members. It was, and remains, a last resort in a fight for fair pay."

Mr Kline said: "We appreciate that students are feeling the pressure as exam deadlines approach. That is why we are urging the employers to meet with us as soon as possible."

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association said:

"The findings are a clear demonstration that the approach of the academic unions in this dispute is detracting from the case they are trying to put."

Ucea will improve its pay offer of 6 per cent over two years at next week's pay talks, but this is expected to fall far short of unions' demands for a 23 per cent rise over three years.



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