The Saint has acquired an email from Chris Beedham of the Modern Languages Department to the UCU St Andrews branch president Dr Tom Jones.
The email, dated Tuesday 13 March, is a summary of a UCU meeting and members’ views following the rejection of a proposal to end the strikes the following day.
The email states that the view of members was that the 14 additional strike days should take place during the exam period. The email specified that it would be a “serious danger” to their interests if it was to take place during the teaching period.
The Universities have no answer to it
The email then goes on to characterise the exam boycott as the UCU’s “unbeatable weapon”.
It even states that if the University would pre-emptively cancel exams it would be a “catastrophe” for the UCU as they would not be able to boycott the examination period.
Mr Beedham also stated in the email that the UCU was “currently at full strength, with unprecedented support.”
He continued, “we need to do justice to that fortunate situation.”
The email reads, “The exams boycott (especially non-marking) is our one unbeatable weapon, it worked in 2006 and it will work again. The Universities have no answer to it. But it won’t work if the Universities take the opportunity to cancel the exams, and there is nothing for us to boycott.”
In response Dr Tom Jones, President of UCU St Andrews’ branch told The Saint, “St Andrews UCU has been in constant contact with the Students’ Association President and Director of Education over the industrial action. We will share with the Students’ Association the plans for further industrial action once they have been finalised, and discuss the likely implications for students. We want to be as open and communicative with students as possible.”
He continued, “It should be stressed that assessment boycott is not a part of the current or planned industrial action or action short of a strike.”
Militant and unsympathetic terminology
President of the Students’ Association, Lewis Wood and Director of Education Zachary Davis however expressed their “concern” over the contents of the email, telling The Saint, “We are absolutely concerned about the threat of strike action impacting the assessment period, especially in such militant and unsympathetic terminology. Damaging the student experience should not be considered an ‘unbeatable weapon’, and we resent the manipulation of student frustration in this way.”
They continued, “The Students’ Association formally passed a motion resolving to ‘express understanding for and support strike action’ and ‘to encourage the senior management team at the University of St Andrews to reconsider their position in order to pressure the UUK to return to negotiations with the UCU.’
“The strike was successful in encouraging this return to negotiations with a fair revaluation, and all formal action points of the motion have now been addressed as appropriate. Furthermore, the SA has been supportive, both in resources and advocacy, of strike action thus far.”
students think striking staff should be supported
The Saint asked the University if they were concerned for student welfare regarding the contents of the email.
A spokesperson for the University of St Andrews said, “We know that our staff are deeply concerned with the academic welfare of their students, and that for the vast majority, the act of taking strike action has been a profoundly difficult one.”
“The prospect of an extended period of industrial action is therefore a source of considerable concern for students, staff, their families and our wider university community. The failure to reach a settlement this week in the national dispute is a huge disappointment.”
Dr Tom Jones however asserted that the UCU still had extensive support, as he asserted “we have had overwhelming support from students over the course of the dispute, with a motion to support the action unanimously passed by SRC and a recent poll showing that students think striking staff should be supported.
“We regret being forced into disruptive industrial action by the proposed changes to our pensions. The disruption is spread across all areas of the university’s activities, affecting research and administration as much as teaching.”
He continued, “we believe that student welfare is ultimately best served by having university staff reasonably paid, and reasonably supported in retirement, and many students have also expressed this view to us. We are working locally and nationally to find a mutually acceptable resolution to the dispute.”
An interim arrangement considered by UUK and UCU on Tuesday 13 March, which if agreed would have come in effect as early as April next year, would have required employers and members to pay higher contributions.
Employer contributions would have risen to 19.3 per cent of salary, with members’ contributions rising to 8.7 per cent.
Students’ Association to withdraw support for UCU ST andrews?
Mr Wood and Mr Davis said that the email seriously called into question the Students’ Associations support for the strikes.
They said, “Should further action proceed, we are of the opinion that it is no longer possible to actively support strike action, and to ‘minimise effects on students’ academic experience’, as the student council motion previously mandated us to do. As such, a complete reevaluation of our stance in relation to the strikes is underway.”
A reevaluation of the Students’ Associations position is only likely to take place following the end of spring break, when all the members of the Joint Councils have returned to St Andrews and are able to participate in a vote.
Mr Wood and Mr Davis continued, “We would like to reassure students that stakeholder engagement will occur over the stance that the SA takes in relation to any further proposed action. The idea that the SA would support action that interferes with exam schedules, or which prevents students from sitting assessments to the best of their ability, is false. Our priority is, and always will be, ensuring that every student can reach their full potential. This may involve a withdrawal of formal support for any further industrial action, but will be shaped by the opinions of the student body.
“Consideration is currently underway as to the best way to engage students in this issue over the spring break; it is highly recommended that students respond to SA polling, attend student council meetings, and read SA emails if they wish to be fully informed of, and contribute to, the shaping on a formal Students’ Association stance.”
UCU membership outcry
After outcry from the UCU membership regarding the aforementioned proposal of Tuesday 13 March, the leadership rejected the proposal which could have ended strike action as soon as Wednesday 14 March.
The spokesperson for the University of St Andrews said, “like a growing number of UK universities, St Andrews has signalled its desire to work with trade union colleagues and national representatives to seek an early end to strike action by agreeing a new valuation of the USS pension fund – the key point at issue in the current dispute.
“We have communicated this to our local trade union representatives and Universities UK. We will be asking our local UCU officials not to carry our further strikes, and if they refuse, to plan their action in a way which minimises disruption to students.”
Regarding the possibility of an exams boycott, the spokesperson said, “we are preparing detailed contingency plans for the next period of scheduled action, should it go ahead, and will work hard to ensure students and staff are kept closely informed.”
“This remains a fluid and volatile national challenge and the welfare of our students and the staff who teach them is our overriding priority.”