Dispute dispatches

May 12, 2006

St Andrews University found itself in an absurd situation this week as the Association of University Teachers tried to prevent it imposing a 12.5 per cent local pay deal on AUT members who voted to accept the offer.

Greg Woolf, president of the local AUT at St Andrews, resigned after national union officers refused to acknowledge a local ballot in which 94 per cent of those voting accepted the three-year offer. After the ballot was launched, the headquarters of AUT Scotland warned that it would be invalid. Of the 181 members who took part (43 per cent of total local membership), 170 accepted the offer.

David Bleiman, assistant general secretary of AUT Scotland, said the poll had not met local criteria for a membership ballot and the majority of members had not voted, as required by national guidance.

The local AUT branch, which has made clear that it has neither officially accepted nor rejected the offer, was due to hold an extraordinary general meeting after The Times Higher went to press.

The university intends to implement the offer regardless. It plans to give staff a 5 per cent increase from August, with another 3.5 per cent in each of the next two years. A spokesperson said: "As an employer, we have an absolute right to make an offer to staff and to pay it."

Some 500 students took to the streets this week to protest against the potential disruption caused to exams by the AUT assessment boycott.

A general meeting of 200 AUT members at Aberdeen University rejected a pay offer of 12.5 per cent over the next three years. It also rejected a call to ballot local members on the offer.

Local president Alex Arthur said: "I was glad we got both a constitutional and unequivocal result and were not left in the awkward position of the St Andrews local association. We hope it has given a clear message to national negotiators."

A university spokesperson said it was taking appropriate action to ensure that exams would go ahead and students would graduate.

Surrey University postgraduates are being offered £6 an hour to invigilate exams at the university.

An e-mail seen by The Times Higher and sent to doctoral students in the School of Arts, Communication and Humanities says: "To ensure that exams have sufficient invigilators up until the end of the exam period on Friday, May 26, the school is happy to pay its doctoral students £6 an hour to undertake invigilation."

It adds that the Association of University Teachers' action short of a strike is holding up the invigilation, marking and processing of exams.

The message says that the school is committed to ensuring that exams go ahead as normal because students have "psyched themselves up" to sit them.

Coventry University has told staff it will start docking 10 per cent of the pay of those boycotting assessment. A memo says: "We had hoped that the national pay dispute and the national AUT and Natfhe-led industrial action would have been resolved by now.

"Given that this dispute is still ongoing, it is with regret that the university has decided to make a deduction from the pay of those who participate in the assessment boycott."

Money will be docked as a lump sum from the pay of full-time and fractional staff in July. Lump sums will be docked from hourly paid part-time staff this month.

Cambridge University MPhil students have beentold that they may have to wait six weeks for the results of essays, which are not being marked because of the industrial action. David Whitebread, MPhil course manager, and Michael Evans, MPhil chair of examiners, apologised to students and said they hoped circumstances would change soon.

An online petition that condemns lecturers' unions for using students as "pawns" has been signed by almost 400 students.

Giveusourmarks.co.uk accuses the unions of taking advantage of students for political means through an assessment boycott. In a message, the website's student creators ask the unions to "redirect your actions away from the student body. This is between yourselves and your employers."

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