Queen’s University’s Student Council has voted to uphold a motion of solidarity with staff members affiliated with the University and College Union (UCU), in the eventuality of a marking boycott this summer. The boycott – the latest tactic in an ongoing dispute between UCU and the University and Colleges’ Employers Association (UCEA) over “Fair Pay in Higher Education” – was proposed by UCU last month, in the scenario that the Union’s demands for a pay increase aren’t met before a cut-off date of April 28th.
The motion – proposed by Union President Niall McShane and seconded by Vice President Campaigns and Communications Conor Daly – was the first Cisco 810-420 of two opposing sentiments put forward by the two Sabbatical Officers at a meeting of Student Council on March 20th. Motion 12.8 proposed that the Council, “Extend solidarity to the marking boycott action and hopes that University staff and trade unions can come together to ensure a speedy resolution to the ongoing dispute”, while the following proposal called on UCU, “To call off the marking boycott action and hopes that Cisco 100-101 University staff and trade unions can come together to ensure a speedy resolution to the ongoing dispute”.
Mr McShane told The Gown, “The reason we put forward the two motions was to create a forum for debate around the issue. I’m conscious it may have been somewhat confusing, in the manner in which it was put forward, but it was really just to create a debate where students could air their views, being conscious that at the meeting before that, there were a few questions to individual members of the Executive Management Committee, asking why we were in support of a motion which… the terminology used was “detrimental to the student body” and “targeting students””, but noted he was pleased at what he felt had been a “healthy debate on both sides”. While he acknowledged that, arising from the decision of Council, the Student Executive would be “fully in support of a marking boycott”, Mr McShane commented, “I hope that in advance of a marking boycott, there’s a decision come to, an agreement [between UCU and UCEA] so that it won’t impact upon Queen’s students”, saying that this would be “The most beneficial outcome for Queen’s students”.
Those to speak against the motion of solidarity with the marking boycott action included Sabbatical Officers Tiernan McAteer and Caoimhe MacNeill, with students Niall Robb, Katy Waller, Sarah Wright and Ben Christman amongst those who spoke in favour of such action. Speaking to The Gown after the meeting, PhD student Mr Christman reiterated, “From a student’s perspective, a marking boycott isn’t ideal – from a lecturer’s perspective too”. He continued by saying that one could argue, “Tactically, the Student Council’s support of the boycott may help to prevent it. Their vote has hopefully sent a very clear message to Queen’s that the student body is unsupportive of skulduggery against Queen’s employees. Student support should increase pressure on Queen’s to enter into negotiations with UCU, helping to resolve the dispute ahead of any boycott. Strong student backing for the boycott may be the most effective way of ensuring that it does not go ahead”.
Reflecting on the debate itself, Mr Christman noted that he had found it “entertaining” and acknowledged the meeting had, “Showed that democracy is very much alive here at Queen’s, with some very passionate and intelligent arguments given from both sides”. He concluded by stating, “We were delighted that the Student Council narrowly supported the motion in favour of the marking boycott”.
A spokesperson for UCU said: “It is because of the intransigence of the employers that we are facing a marking boycott. We first took strike action back in October and there have been plenty of opportunities for them to resolve this dispute. We hope that, finally, things can be sorted before the need for a marking boycott. We have been really encouraged by all the support we have been receiving from students in our fight for fair pay. Students and staff need to continue to work together to defend education”.
It is, as yet, unclear if a marking boycott will take place. Following what UCU have termed a “positive and constructive” meeting with UCEA on March 26th, the two bodies will return to the negotiating table on April 15th to attempt to find a resolution before the date a boycott is scheduled to begin.