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‘Collateral Damage’: Students express both support and concern amid UCU industrial action

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Student support would drastically decrease if marking boycott is implemented, survey finds


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Photo Credit: Megan Widley


Around 77% of UoA students who responded to an anonymous survey promoted by The Gaudie on social media expressed support for the UCU’s current industrial action, which has been paused since late February while union bosses and employers attempt to come to a deal over pensions and pay.


However, the survey also found that just 41% of students supported a potential marking and assessment boycott, which UCU bosses have threatened if a deal with employers is not reached. By contrast, 32% of students opposed such action, and a further 27% were 'not sure' if they would support the boycott.


A number of respondents commented that they fully supported striking staff. A 4th year English student said: ‘The right to strike is integral to worker's rights - no matter the impact on my studies, I fully support the strikes.’


A 4th year Theology and Religious Studies student added: ‘A marking boycott could seriously delay my graduation, but I think it's important for the staff to get what they deserve. It is important for students to stand in solidarity with teaching staff and lecturers…’


However, a number of students expressed concerns for international and final year students who are affected by the cancellation of classes and a potential marking boycott.


One 3rd year Theology and Sociology student said: ‘I think the strikes are important because the university needs to treat and pay its staff well. That being said, the way the strikes are being handled by UCU is not great. They say that students should be running to support them, yet they are not really thinking about how this will affect students. If they do a marking boycott then I will no longer support them. At that point, they will be playing with people's lives, their futures, and the money of those who are not Scottish.’


A 4th year English Literature student added: ‘ I do support the strikes, but this is my final term of uni and to miss out on 4 weeks of teaching, is pretty disheartening. There were strikes just before COVID, so all but one term for me has been [affected] by COVID or strikes, which is really unfair. Thankfully I'm a Scottish student, but I would not be paying for this if I was an international.’


One 5th year student commented that UoA should refund students for cancelled classes. They wrote: ‘... While I completely agree with what lecturers are standing for, students seem to be the collateral damage. I am missing 5/11 weeks this term yet am still being charged the full amount of tuition. I am aware lecturers are not paid for the days they strike so I believe the uni should be giving this money back to students instead of having it added to their massive profits.’


The University does not expect graduations or international student visas to be affected by the industrial action. A spokesperson told The Gaudie: ‘The University will make every effort to minimise the impact of any industrial action on students who will be given advice and kept updated. We have communicated directly to students on the measures that are in place to ensure minimal disruption to their education. A series of FAQs provides students with a range of advice on the mitigating measures the University has in place, including advice on examination and marking and where to seek help.’


Aberdeen UCU Branch Secretary David Anderson commented: 'We are heartened to see that so many students are supportive of university staff taking strike action. This has certainly been the experience of many of us on the picket lines. Students have been happy to speak to us and offer their support. Students know our working conditions are their learning conditions.


We thank students for their support and we understand that students are less certain of a potential marking and assessment boycott, as this would have a more drastic impact on them than the current forms of action do. UCU members have opted not to use a marking and assessment boycott twice already during this dispute, as we care about our students and know the impact this will have on their education.


Anderson also pointed students to UCU's website (www.ucu.org.uk/email-your-VC), where he encouraged students to contact UoA Vice-Chancellor George Boyne, who is also the chair of employers association UCEA, and urge him to end the dispute.


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