Thursday, May 04, 2006

77% of students oppose the marking boycott

Following on from my earlier posts about the AUT/NATFHE marking boycott and the NUS leadership supporting the action without consulting their members, not to mention the Petition against the AUT assessment boycott, the issue has hit the headlines today. A poll commissioned jointly by London Student and the Times Higher Education Supplement has found that 77% of students oppose the boycott.

What's interesting has been the reaction of the National Union of Students' leadership:
NUS president Kat Fletcher said: "Clearly there are strong opinions circulating on both sides of the debate across the two million members that we have in higher education.

"We know that some students are unhappy with the lecturers' decision to boycott assessment and we also have clear evidence of support for the teaching unions and the actions they have been forced to take."

Ms Fletcher said the survey might have elicited a different response if it had set out all the facts.
Those who have seen Yes Prime Minister will recall the classic scene when Humphrey explains to Bernard just how to rig a survey. Presumably Kat Fletcher would have liked such a survey to be conducted instead of an opinion poll.

(Some may wish to claim the poll was rigged. However it was commissioned by London Student whose editorial line has been one of support for the boycott. The actual questions asked were "Do you support the lecturers' demands for higher pay disregarding their industrial action?" and "Do you support the lecturers boycotting the setting and marking of exams and coursework as part of their campaign for higher pay?" Furthermore the polling organisation has been identified and is one with a reputation, not a dodgey "private poll" of the kind in the Yes Prime Minister example.)

I should also note the rest of Kat's comments:
However, like all students I am concerned about the impact of the industrial action especially with the exam season under way.

I am particularly concerned that some students aren't even able to take their exams, because of the AUT policy not to set them," she said.

"We are really pleased that both sides will be getting back round the table, something which should have happened much earlier than this."
But from her comments overall it seems doubtful that the NUS leadership will respond to this clear expression of student opinion. One must seriously question whether the NUS mission values statement is being adhered to when it states:
NUS will constantly improve the lives and experiences of students in the UK: by ensuring their voice is heard and effectively represented; by developing democratic and strong students’ unions; and by providing collective benefits and access to information for all students.
Now the NUS leadership may want to argue for the trustee model of representation rather than the delegate model of representation. But traditionally NUS has gone with the delegate model of representation and it's rather suspicious to change stance just when the existing model happens to deliver a different result from the one wanted.

As well as my earlier post about Adam Sloan's experience of the boycott, here are two more individual accounts. Firstly The Independent Online Edition has Portia Hart: Why I would fight the AUT to get my degree whilst BBC News has Jacqueline Berry's account of her waiting game. Here at Queen Mary we've been lucky that the deadline for submitting exam papers fell before the boycott started, but many students are still concerned that they will not be able to graduate and take up graduate jobs and postgraduate places. At other universities students don't even know if they'll be able to sit their exams.

Let's hope this poll helps bring the action to a conclusion very soon.

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