With the industrial action that is proposed can the Guild really be neutral? Should the Guild be neutral? When we sent out our position last week we sided with the students at Exeter.
Unlike the NUS and a small number of other student unions we put the ideology of trade union solidarity aside, instead focusing on how we can best represent the interests of our own students who are stuck in the middle and will be impacted by the industrial action. Both sides will try and put forward ways in which the dispute will impact students; some may be accurate, others not, depending on how the dispute is resolved, but one thing is certain, industrial action means a loss of contact time, a loss of face to face interaction and a lost opportunity to ask questions. All of which students expect when studying at University.
This situation is more complicated for those PGR students who are both students and teachers. We primarily represent students as students, the UCU represents these individuals as teachers. We are involved in local PGR teaching issues such as using e-claims for payments, but this issue and the others we are involved with don’t conflict with the interests of a large proportion of our members and teaching income is used to fund study and living; both of which we are committed to supporting all students on.
In reaching this decision we looked at the student feedback from previous strikes (2013 & 14), current concerns around value for money, teaching hours and met with both sides of the dispute. The elected sabbatical officers, using their democratic mandate, agreed by majority that the Guild would remain neutral – we decided not to tie ourselves to one side of the argument or the other so our hands weren’t tied when representing the interests of students. A neutral position also allows us to best represent the different viewpoints of all students
It is great to see students engaging with the situation, being pro-active in expressing their concerns and feelings about the industrial action. We know it isn’t the stance that some people wanted us to take, a Student Idea closes this week that, if successful, will align us to support the UCU side of the dispute and the Guild would encourage you to consider the issues that are at the foundation of this dispute, balance the competing needs, and to vote accordingly. This strike and our role in it affects every student, so it is vital that every student plays a role in shaping our position through Student Ideas.
But before you do vote, let’s first consider how an affiliation to one side might impact what the Students’ Guild can do to represent your best interests. We are neutral but not sitting on fences, we can currently act freely to apply pressure where needed to minimise the impact, but this will change if our position changes.
The University has committed to asking those lecturers who strike to provide the teaching materials in alternative format such as notes or slides on ELE, this will help to reduce the amount of learning missed and reduce the impact of the strike for you; as it something that we currently can support and can lobby the lecturers to provide. If we are mandated to support the UCU side of the debate, we can’t apply that pressure.
Equally if we side with the UUK, and in turn the University on the dispute and they are unwilling to make reasonable adjustments to make sure that assessments suitably reflect the materials taught and not taught over this term we would not be able to lobby them to make these changes.
We firmly believe that not siding with one side or the other is in the best interests of the students at Exeter now; the ones that are our members; and the ones that we have a legal duty to represent.