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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

AUSA and Aberdeen UCU at odds as marking boycott continues

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

UoA's student union has refused to support the current marking and assessment boycott due to its 'direct negative effect' on students.

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Signs of happier days: UCU Aberdeen members joined AUSA and other student activists in March for a rally aimed at preserving mental health funding for students

Aberdeen University Students Association (AUSA) have withdrawn support for striking lecturers after members of academic union UCU began a marking and assessment boycott (MAB) last month.

In late January, the University's AUSA-ran Student Council vowed they would ‘not support’ a potential MAB, citing the boycott’s ‘disproportionate effect’ on final year and international students.

Four months later, AUSA officials have kept their word, barring UCU members from hosting events in the Student Union Building and siding with University management on measures to mitigate marking delays.

AUSA: MAB ‘disproportionately’ affects final year and international students:

Outgoing VP for Communities Camilo Torres Barragan explained that AUSA, which represents over 15,000 students, could not support measures with ‘a direct negative impact on students.’

He told The Gaudie: ‘The UCU’s demands regarding precarious contracts, workloads, and equal pay are fair and the Students’ Union supports the right of staff to take action to fight for improvements in these areas. We understand that good conditions for staff mean good conditions for students now and also when they pursue a career.’

‘It's also clear that a marking and assessment boycott will have a direct negative impact on students and risks disproportionately affecting the degrees and futures of final year and international students. It is important that measures are taken to mitigate these impacts and support those students who might face life changing consequences.’

‘For that reason, we supported the measures being taken by the University, including dropping double-marking, as that is the best we can do for our students in a very complicated situation. For us it is imperative that all parties do all they can to reach an agreement, end the marking and assessment boycott, and remove the need for any mitigations in the first place.’

Survey finds students have mixed feelings on AUSA’s decision:

A recent survey conducted by The Gaudie found that nearly 60% of students supported AUSA’s decision not to support the marking boycott. However, only 34% of students agreed with AUSA’s position on the marking measures passed by the University Senate last week.

One third year engineering student told The Gaudie: ‘AUSA sabbs and reps are thinking of their own careers and buying management's lies, not realising that management doesn't care about students either. Strike action has to be disruptive to work, I want the staff teaching me to be able to live and be rewarded for their expertise.’

Another student, a fourth year undergraduate, commented: ‘AUSA’s decision not to support the lecturers in their efforts is upsetting and not one that represents the student body.’ A third added: ‘It's a shame they betrayed the UCU!’

However, a number of students approved of AUSA’s position, with one student commenting: ‘[I] think it’s impossible for a students’ union to support a marking boycott given the implications this can have on a student graduating. First and foremost, a students’ association is there to represent the interests of students and when staff strike action has a negative impact on students then I don’t think that can be supported.’

A fourth year chemical engineering student agreed, adding: ‘... First and foremost [AUSA] is there to represent students, not lecturers and should therefore not support any action which could directly harm students. Any other position taken I think would be correctly seen as a betrayal of their members.’

UCU members: AUSA's concerns are 'understandable,' but student and workers interests can't be 'artificially separated':

In a statement by the local branch, UCU members said they understood AUSA's concerns.

The statement read: 'It is entirely understandable that AUSA is anxious about the MAB – and lecturers are also anxious and upset about the dispute. AUCU lecturers were given no choice. The Union thrice rejected the suggestion that we turn to a MAB last year. AUCU have been attempting to negotiate with [University management] from the start of the dispute last year, without good faith reciprocation... The question of whether AUSA supports the MAB is not the right question. The questions AUSA and the student body should be asking [management]: Was the best option to refuse to negotiate from the start so that the MAB never had to progress to this point?'

Owen Walsh, a lecturer in Modern History at the University, also weighed in, telling The Gaudie that despite concerns, AUSA should join striking staff in their fight.

He said: '[I am] disappointed that AUSA regard the University's abandonment of a meaningful marking process as an acceptable measure. No students - including international students - are well served by this act, which is likely to deploy casualised labour to break our legitimate and necessary action, only to graduate students with degrees that are significantly less meaningful than they otherwise would be…'

Walsh added: 'I'd therefore encourage AUSA leadership and all students to reconsider who and what constitutes a defence of their interests. The fact - already recognised by AUSA in their statement - that student learning conditions are staff working conditions speaks to a more general truth: that student interests (including those of international students) cannot be artificially separated from worker interests.'


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