Monday, May 08, 2006

AUT holding students ransom

The BBC is reporting on the boycott of university assessment by members of the lecturers' unions Natfhe and the AUT. The BBC's comments from the students are very familiar as this happened to me in 1989 when I was a final year.

Don't get me wrong - we under pay our lectures at British Universities. It was true in 1989 and its true in 2006. One of my lecturers wanted to know what salaries we were all getting on graduation so he could write to his MP complaining that we were all being paid more than him !

However the action they are tacking is wrong, irresponsible and potentially may lead to some very nasty incidents. Students, especially final years, are at the end of a very long educational process. They have been working at exams and assessments most of their lives and for people to hold them to ransom at the end of it all is immoral.

I can remember when this happened in 1989 I asked a few of my fellow students if anyone wanted to band together to take legal action - they all said no and the understood what the lectures where doing. ( Fine I'd asked - and they appeared to have the courage of their convictions. ) But a week or so before our finals - with no prospect of them being even set - let alone marked - people started coming up to me to ask if they could reconsider. The answer was no - as I didn't believe I would have any support. But tensions were high - frankly bordering on violence.

Something very unpleasant is likely to happen unless the AUT and Natfhe back down. They should remember they always have a choice of taking the jobs their students will do. Indeed one day, working a late evening in the office a few years later I heard a familiar voice and went round the corner to find one of my former lecturers doing just that as a consultant !

Dear AUT and Natfhe
- your demands are understandable. But remember 3 things:
1) Nothing has changed much in the 17 years since the last time you tried this.
2) The young people whose futures your actions are holding hostage are stressed and vulnerable. You may push some of them over the edge and this will have been your responsibility.
3) If what you teach has any value - you could always try earning a living doing it.

PS It is also coming back to me how disgracefully the Student Union and NUS acted in 1989 - with their officers pushing their politics ahead of the clear interests of the majority of their members. Our Student Union tried to get a motion through a meeting by placing at the end of an agenda of a very long meeting with no explanation as to what that motion would mean. Reading the BBC article on this current action I would imagine they are doing it again.


Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Students' Unions and the NUS have been divided on this - the NUS gave strong backing to the action (albeit with objections to the AUT only decision to not set exams that have been getting louder lately) but students' union officers are divided with both anti and pro boycott letters in circulation. There are both anti and pro boycott petitions of students, with the anti petitions that I've seen all heavily outdoing the pro petition that I've seen by huge margins. The publication of a recent opinion poll that suggests 77% of students oppose the boycott (with 67% supporting the pay claims). All in all the NUS and students' union officers who are pro boycott are looking increasingly out of touch and many are forced to use the "if people understood the 'facts' they would support the boycott line", along with "most people I've spoken to are in favour". The recent NUS national conference did not even discuss the boycott. (My own union had a motion on it last week and voted to oppose it.)

Professor Hardright Bonehead said...

But have you considered the consequences and the type of university we will end up with?

Man in a Shed said...

It is in my opinion true that our Engineering departments have been decreasing in their capability to educate engineering graduates for some years. This is in part due to the insane paper chase for publications - as well as competition for talent, in which pay plays a part.

However the point remains that if you don't like it you should leave - rather than go on strike. Its the same dilema the rest of us professionals have to deal with in our areas of employment. I personally have left a job when management refused to listen or take not of their employees. Its no fun - its not easy - but its the reality of life for most of the non-state sector work force.

Given competition from India and China the state sector will need to shape up or be a millstone around the neck of our country.

This means universities must change.
They need to change to reward professional education and also to stop the confidence trick of tacking vastly too many young people to degree programs that provide no return to society for the time and resources they use.

Although people talk of us retiring at 68 - perhaps the answer is to shorten degree courses for arts subjects ( harder for science and engineering where there is necessary material to cover ) and send less people to university. We would then need less lectures - the remained of whom could be paid higher.