Was the Student Union right in supporting the UCU marking boycott?
With a motion passing through the Student Council voting for the USSU to officially support this term’s marking boycott, The Badger asks whether this was the right decision?
I am proud that our Student Union has come out in support of the marking boycott and in support of our teachers. There has been yet another attempt by the media and by the higher echelons of this University to redirect our anger at the injustice of our fees; away from those at the top of society who are responsible towards our friends and neighbours. In this case we are being told to be angry with our teachers.
Our tuition fees were tripled to £9000 a year and threats have been made to raise international student’s fees even further. This university and every university around the country now have more money than they have ever had before. Yet the policies of privatisation, cuts to staff, cuts to research budgets and cuts to our teacher’s pay packets and pensions carry on.
Our Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing has been implementing these policies since he received his job at the University of Sussex. His pay packet has not been cut; his pension has not been slashed. He is paid £294,000 a year and enjoyed a 5.1% pay rise last year. His salary is almost 15 times the average salary of the working population of the UK. His pay has been increasing annually whilst our teachers have suffered pay cuts year after year.
Teacher’s wages are down 13% from 2009 and now they are after their pensions. I have heard amongst my peers and on the news a common anguish. “Why are we paying £9000 a year when they won’t even mark our work?” As students we must remember, it was not our teachers who tripled our fees. Instead we must ask the question “why am I paying £9000 a year whilst departmental budgets, research budgets and my teacher’s pay is being cut?”
It is these cuts that damage our education. We must not let the establishment and media turn our entirely justified anger at the way our society is run and the fear of our futures being ridden with debt and insecurity towards our neighbours. It was not teachers or their trade unions that tripled our fees; it was the politicians in Westminster. We must turn our anger towards our Vice- Chancellor and the politicians who argue that “there is no money left” to pay our teachers, our firemen or our nurses.
The top 1000 people in our society have dou- bled their personal wealth since 2010 in the largest economic recession the world has ever seen. Michael Farthing and our politicians get a pay rise, our teachers get a pay cut and we are saddled with a future of debt and insecurity. It is our job as students and future employees to stand by our neighbours when they need our help. We can only fight injustice together and it is in our interest to have a university where equality and justice are at its foundations.
It is in our interest to have well funded and publicly owned services, departments and teachers in our university. The UCU are not only fighting for their pay and pensions, they are fighting for our future pay and pensions. They are fighting for our right to a free education and to a university not governed by injustice. This is why I am proud that our Student Union, which we are all a part of, has supported the boycott.
On Wednesday 6th November, some members of teaching staff at the University of Sussex who are also members of the UCU decided to join tutors from 68 other universities in a marking boycott of indefinite length. The following Monday, our Students’ Union passed a vote approving this boycott; this was an extremely irresponsible decision which was not only wrong because it was based upon misdirected principles, but also because the decision itself was made in completely the wrong manner.
I think it is important for me to state from the start that this should not be viewed as a comment piece in favour of or against the mark- ing boycott itself. Changes to the pension schemes of pre-1992 universities could have significant negative monetary effects on university staff and so they have voted to implement a marking boycott rather than a full-on strike. However, despite the sympathies which I’m sure we all have for those who might not get as much as they would like or deserve for their pension, the University of Sussex Students’ Union should not be approving the marking boycott.
The Students’ Union exists to support the students of the University of Sussex. There is no doubt that this marking boycott will do nothing for students except hinder our education and the degree we are supposed to be earning is becoming even less worth the £27,000+ that it will cost us. By supporting the marking boycott the SU has marginalised the huge majority of its mem- bers by defending the interests of a completely separate group. The tutors at this University have their own union (and indeed it seems to be a much more professional, better organised and loyal union compared to the USSU).
They do not need the Students’ Union to support their interests at all as they already have the UCU which is doing a very good job of it by themselves! It would seem that, according to the SU, any negative effect of the marking boycott on students is simply collateral damage and what’s more, to the SU, it is worth all of the disruption to students just to spite the University management. I wonder if, when they took the vote in the Un- ion Council meeting, the Full-time Officers were even aware of how much this boycott would harm their members.
When asked what the effect of the boycott would be on students with January exams, or on 3rd year students for whom essay marks and feed- back are crucial, the Full-time Officers answered: ‘who knows?’ and ‘your guess is as good as ours’. They gave these answers minutes before voting to support the boycott anyway. In the minds of the 6 Full-time Officers, the vote was only a formality anyway.
The Sussex Students’ Union opinion had already been expressed. Each of the 6 Full-time Officers of the Students’ Union had attributed their name to a letter, sent to the the Independent on 5 Novem- ber, boldly entitled ‘Students support academic boycott’. Do we? I’m pretty sure that most of the students of Sussex didn’t even know it was going to happen until it actually did.
In any case, this opinion was spouted without a required Union Council vote and without any proper attempt being made to gauge student opinion. This undemocratic and extremely unprofessional statement makes a mockery of any attempt that the SU might make to say that it’s decision represents the thought of the majority of its members. These actions only help to highlight the arrogance and the sheer pomposity of our Students’ Union.