Opinion: The assessment boycott and the need to protect students with disabilities

I have just started university and all is going well, except in one particular area. I have not received a single piece of work back from my university tutors since my course began. This because of a assessment boycott instigated by the University and Colleges Union (UCU). They are is a dispute with the group that represents the heads of most universities in the UK (UUK) over pensions. I am in the same boat as thousands of other university and college students in the UK. this is not only very annoying it is also very disruptive the my university education. As a student with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), this includes myself as I have Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. This is putting a massive amount of undue extra pressure on me and many others at the beginning of our university lives. I have made a brief video which explains this further:

Please sign the petition that I have created to stop the boycott and protect students with learning difficulties.

For more information on the assessment boycott, the Guardian has done a very good fact file on the issue.

* Will Dyer is the PPC for Bethnal & Bow and a former London regional executive member

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29 Comments

  • No, I won’t sign this petition.

    If you want to petition someone perhaps you should instead direct your ire towards the institutions intent on short changing their staff. The same staff who work hard to deliver your education.

  • Paul Howden 24th Nov '14 - 3:12pm

    You might not need the petition, it looks as though a solution has been reached (albeit probably temporary) . Work is being set and marking is resuming at my own uni. Unlike Jack though I am supporting of your petition. When you pay £9K a year you have to be a little selfish and put your own education first not to mention they’re are many with worse pension rights then academic staff.

  • William Dyer 24th Nov '14 - 4:02pm

    Update on the petition
    21 Nov 2014 — Quote from THE (Times Higher Education) website.

    “A joint statement by the University and College Union and Universities UK said the assessment boycott that has been under way at institutions for a fortnight would be put on hold from 20 November until after the next meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee, which is scheduled for 15 January.”

    This is brilliant news, as it means that students will start to get feedback from the work they have already submitted and will also be able to access the help that they need.

    I will of course still keep the petition running in case a deal is not reached by Jan 15th.

    Thankyou for all your support,

    William Dyer

  • Is there a way to withhold the payment of your fees until the services they pay for are resumed in full???
    That might focus the employers minds on seeking a resolution somewhat…

    I would also ask for a rebate for the lack of response to your work. You could quite easily be compounding mistakes in later assignments that would have been resolved if you had been informed of them. The point should be made that you are paying for a service that is not being delivered to an acceptable standard in a timely manner. Once we ask our students to pay for education they should be entitled to expect the institutions to deliver or offer a partial or full refund where they fail to do so.

  • Stop being so selfish. Academics have suffered real falls in income as a result of several years worth of below inflation pay rises and now their pensions are under massive threat. This is coupled with the ongoing disaster of university funding thanks to an ill thought through tuition fees policy that nearly all concerned have admitted is not viable in the long term, as many people will never pay back the full loan amount.

    Also, your disabilities should not be used to try and guilt trip academics striking over their future. Many academics, including myself, have Specific Learning Disabilities and are well aware of any difficulties these may cause. You will be provided with the appropriate help at university, and your situation will be taken seriously, but you will also have to learn coping strategies as well. These will help you later on in the workplace post-education where you will get even less assistance than you do now. You’re not at school, you’re expected to learn how to function as an autonomous adult now.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Nov '14 - 7:58am

    G, how is it selfish for Will to be concerned about his education and not selfish for academics to be concerned about their pensions.

    All Will was trying to do was explain the impact on him. Perhaps a bit of understanding and empathy would be better than castigation.

  • Sorry Caron, Will is the one who should have empathy here. Academics go out of their way to help students, often working nearly twice their contracted hours to make sure preparation and marking are done, while trying to maintain a research presence. In return we get effective pay cuts, real cuts to out pensions, politicians whining about us, newspapers telling us to many people go to university, and students who think paying tuition fees entitles them to special treatment.
    Students need to understand their fees buy them nothing. They are not customers. Their relationship with the university is not a business relationship. It is a relationship where they are taught, assessed and passed or failed dependent on their academic ability, not their ability to pay. What they are doing is filling a hole in central government funding by taking a loan that then gets dispensed centrally to universities. The staff who teach them have no contact with the fees students are charged. It’s all dealt with by administrators.

    Higher Education is a mess, and it’s getting worse. But students demanding even more of their lecturers will not fix this.

  • Will will be paying for up to 30 years for his education, it is not selfish to expect it to be delivered as promised.

  • Steve Way, no Will won’t. Because the funding scheme is no longer viable. Even Vince Cable has admitted this.

    At some point a future government will have to write off debt and give massive amounts of money from the Treasury to fix this.

    And you say ‘delivered as promised’, well university staff have expectations of pay rises and pensions as promised. We’re not getting them, this is having knock on effects on staff levels and morale, so perhaps Will should start looking at the root causes of problems in universities.

  • @Steve Way: “Will will be paying for up to 30 years for his education, it is not selfish to expect it to be delivered as promised.”

    I agree. What I object to him targeting the staff rather than the university in his petition.

  • g
    I have no problem with the right to take action, you will note I suggested withholding fees would focus the minds of the employers. Equally though I have no problem with those not a party to a dispute being able to seek recompense where services are affected by that dispute. If I book a flight that cannot take place because of industrial action I would expect a refund whatever my sympathy with one or other party. It would be illogical for those striking to call me selfish for wanting the services I paid for.

    Looking at the root cause and accusing someone of being selfish for expecting the services they pay for are two distinct points. Your supposition that debt will be paid off is just that, unless of course you, or your union, will agree to indemnify him if it isn’t? Whatever your view of the future, the present reality is that students pay a substantial fee for their education and are obliged to pay that back if they earn above a set amount on completion of their studies. Those who pay for a service should expect to receive it, and are not selfish for holding that expectation.

    As it stands I have sympathy for those taking part in this action, but I also have great sympathy for those who through no fault of their own are affected by it. If the former start to insult the latter they will lose my support and respect.

  • Students became customers when they started to be directly charged for their education.

  • @Jack
    Which is why I suggested applying pressure to the institution if possible…. However, if you take the step of undertaking industrial action then you run the risk of upsetting affected third parties, in this case students. It does not help any side’s case to accuse them of being selfish as g has above. The FBU learnt this from their previous actions and, from my observations, have much more sympathy with their current dispute as they have taken the time to explain to,and empaphise with, those affected through no fault of their own.

  • Steve Way

    Students became customers when they started to be directly charged for their education.

    But they’re not directly charged. They’re loaned money, which then goes to a central pot, which is then redistributed to universities.

    They have no rights as customers. They can’t negotiate over price, and they can’t withhold their fees and study elsewhere. They also can’t expect to pass, just because they have paid to be assessed. They are no more customers than car drivers are customers of the DVLA.

    Also, most of the staff they have contact with are not paid through money raised directly from fees either, they’ll have their own research grants and money from central budgets.

  • Stephen W

    This is better addressed at the specific management (and staff) at your university. Students need to show they don’t accept this nonsense.

    Academics have no right to complain at students over this one. They have paid good money and worked hard and don’t deserve to be messed around. Staff obviously think it is fine to disrupt students to protect their self-interest. Students have the moral right to argue their own corner.

    Decisions to strike or boycott are actions of a last resort after negotiations have failed. And of course staff are protecting their self interest – in this case their expectation of a decent pension. What is wrong with that?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Nov '14 - 11:23am

    Stephen W

    Academics have no right to complain at students over this one. They have paid good money and worked hard and don’t deserve to be messed around.

    The deal with an academic career used to be this: you accepted a relatively low salary in return for high job security and a good pension. However, job security in academia is no more, “tenure” as traditionally understood has gone away, academics can be sacked e.g. for spending too much time on doing good teaching and not churning out sufficient research papers. What this union action is about is now the pension deal academics accepted when they took on the career is to be reneged on. The salaries are still low however, and have declined in real terms in recent years.

    To put this into perspective, on the basis of the skills which I teach them, students with a good grade in my module can get a job which will pay TWICE in about two years what I earn as a lecturer with 25 years experience .

  • g
    They are directly charged, the loan is not from the institution but a third party. They can take their studies elsewhere, there is a market. I accept that they cannot expect a guarantee to pass, but nor can someone paying for driving lessons. They should expect the lesson to carry out as promised. It is simply not selfish to expect the university to provide the teaching and feedback they were led to believe was part of their course.

    Students have the right to complain through the establishment, the office of the independent adjudicator and finally the courts for the quality of their education including marking and feedback. Whilst it is a last resort students have previously been awarded damages by the court and through out of court settlements. They have consumer rights to the service they have paid for.

  • @Matthew
    I think it is the complaining “at” students that was referred to. I have great sympathy for lecturer’s up to the point those caught up in their dispute are referred to as selfish…

  • Steve Way

    I think it is the complaining “at” students that was referred to. I have great sympathy for lecturer’s up to the point those caught up in their dispute are referred to as selfish…

    I think it was fair comment in regard to the original post which didn’t attempt to see things from the perspective of staff nor understand the issues but was wholly concerned about the individuals situation. Not only that, the attempt to use disability to emotionally blackmail was absolutely uncalled for. As I have made clear many staff, myself included, know exactly what the implications of Specific Learning Disabilities are, and know from first hand experience of the help and support offered.

  • I am a University Lecturer effectively stuck on a pay grade as my employer seems unwilling to help me progress further. That means I have been taking real terms cuts. However I think it extremely selfish for anyone to boycott assessment as a way of influencing employers. This harms people who have no say in the pay /pension decisions and has the potential to delay progress in a significant way. It is certainly true that students should be autonomous learners. The fact however is that very few come to University with the skills to be this and to just expect them to motor on without significant early support is ridiculous. If lecturers want to put pressure on employers, a simpler thing to boycott would the ridiculously increasing amount of admin and “counting” type tasks we seem to be asked to do. A lot of these have a direct bearing on the University’s income and so frankly is more likely to concentrate the minds of those in senior positions than penalising young people who need our help. It is certainly true that most of us go above and beyond the hours we are meant to work. I regularly spend large chunks of weekends on writing and marking tasks. However whenever I feel the urge to have a moan about this I remind myself that there are loads of rewards to doing this type of work.

  • g
    Sorry, but we will have to disagree, it is simply not selfish expecting the course to be delivered as promised. I do not believe the action of the lecturers to be selfish, but it has impacted negatively on those who have no part in the dispute whatsoever. They are rightly annoyed, you may disagree with the focus of this but not the justification for it. Rather than calling them selfish it would have been better to use their justifiable displeasure to help achieve your aims.

  • Steve Way

    Sorry, but we will have to disagree, it is simply not selfish expecting the course to be delivered as promised.

    All a worker can do in protest is to withdraw their labour. That is exactly what the boycott does. That it affects students is intended to make a point to management that the power of an an organised workforce impacts on the organisation they run and they should bear that in mind when trying to reduce the terms and conditions of that workforce.

    Blame management for the impact on students, not staff. Staff are only standing up for their rights.

  • g
    You started your original comment with the words, stop being so selfish. I would suggest that if you really want students to blame the organisation rather than those they see directly affecting their studies you may try reasoning rather than insulting them.

    I’ve made it clear that my view is that the lecturers are justified in their dispute with their employers, but you are not in calling those affected selfish.

  • Steve Way, for clarity I’m not calling students selfish, indeed the NUS are supporting action, just the specific argument presented in the original post.

  • People should sign this petition if they agree that those who paid into their own pension funds for years can be short- changed and should do nothing about it. If however they would act to save their own pensions they should not – it is a piece of ire directed at individuals defending themselves and their families, and does nothing to pressurise the actually responsible parties, in fact it probably helps them, given the use of references to the author’s disabilities.
    Paula, you might be queasy about the nature of the action – what would you propose as an alternative that would be as effective? (I am assuming that you will wish to decline benefiting from the changes that your colleagues have already won through their being prepared to act and boycott marking.)

  • It would be interesting to see what would happen if William took legal action against his university to refund his tuition fees, because he clearly isn’t getting what he’s paid for. Surely if you pay for a service and the company in question fails to provide that service you should get your money back.

  • malc,

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if William took legal action against his university to refund his tuition fees, because he clearly isn’t getting what he’s paid for. Surely if you pay for a service and the company in question fails to provide that service you should get your money back.

    Education isn’t a service and universities aren’t companies. Tuition fees aren’t paid directly to the university and Will hasn’t entered into a contractual arrangement.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '14 - 8:03pm

    Steve Way

    I’ve made it clear that my view is that the lecturers are justified in their dispute with their employers, but you are not in calling those affected selfish.

    So what are we to do to make our point?

    In my 25 years experience as a university lecturer, I’ve seen plenty of these things ad they always fizzle out because in the end actually we DO care for our students and so mostly don’t do what we were threatening.

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