Dispute dispatches

May 19, 2006

Unions say that universities, by digging in their heels over pay, are tainting graduates' qualifications and undermining academic values. Phil Baty reports

* A group of overseas students at Northumbria University are demanding their fees back after their English-language course was disrupted by industrial action.

Staff at the university's English Language Centre have taken action short of a strike as part of the national pay dispute and are also embroiled in a local row over redundancies and demotions within the centre.

The students wrote to Kel Fidler, the vice-chancellor, to demand a refund of their fees. Some are considering moving to other universities.

Oral and listening exams have been cancelled. Rima Apegha, one of the students, said that their parents might lodge a complaint and that the students might consider legal action.

The university is docking 100 per cent of the pay of staff involved in the boycott.

* The University of East Anglia is to dock a third of pay of academics involved in the boycott. Rodney Eastwood, the vice- chancellor, wrote to staff this week giving them three days to end their action and sign an undertaking to carry out their duties to the full. Staff failing to do so face docking.

Professor Eastwood also made it clear that he would honour the 12.6 per cent pay rise offered by employers nationally, even though it was rejected by the academic unions.

He warned that the university would seek to recover from boycotting staff any costs it incurred due to any legal action taken against it by students.

* Aberystwyth University this week confirmed that it had cancelled 31 exams because of the boycott as a student leader attacked its handling of the dispute.

Rebecca Corn, who quit as president of Aberystwyth's Guild of Students after union leaders rejected the latest offer from employers, has condemned Aberystwyth's decision to award degrees on the basis of an average of students' previous marks. In a letter to The Times Higher , she complains that the university "will not commit to allowing students to substitute their real marks for these averages once the industrial action is finished".

* The student union at Royal Holloway, University of London, no longer supports lecturers taking industrial action. The student union passed an emergency motion condemning the the Association of University Teachers and Natfhe's method of targeting lectures and assessments.

Nicki Eastlake, vice-president, said: "The student union has decided no longer to sit on the fence. Until now we were happy monitoring the limited effect the action was having, but it has become apparent the action is beginning to jeopardise students' degrees."

* Six hundred students at Stirling University filled in mock exam papers supporting the AUT action and calling on university vice-chancellors to encourage negotiations between the AUT and the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association.

Al Wilson, student president, said that 20 of the 261 exams scheduled to begin on Monday had not been received.

* At Glasgow Caledonian University, two exams - in law and engineering - have been rescheduled for later in the month as a result of the boycott. The 57 students affected have been kept fully informed.

* The threat still stands at Warwick University to dock 20 per cent of pay for action short of a strike, but it is unclear whether this will be carried out. Industrial action is holding strong across departments.

* Exams at Staffordshire University are not being invigilated, but managers are paying for support staff or others to carry out the work instead.

* Liverpool University students are to hold a rally on Friday in protest against the boycott and lack of progress on national pay negotiations. Liverpool's Guild of Students said that, while it sympathised with academics' demands for higher pay, it could not condone disruption to students' education.

Irfan Zaman, president of the Guild, said: "There is a lot of frustration on campus. Students feel they want to show their disillusionment with the process by collectively lobbying both parties."

Do you have news on the dispute? E-mail news@thes.co.uk

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