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Edinburgh University urges students to ‘reach out’ with marking boycott worries, then removes comments

Edinburgh University released a video of the Vice-Principal addressing the ‘uncertainty’ of the marking boycott


Professor Colm Harmon, Vice-Principal of Students at the University of Edinburgh, released a video on the university’s website, shedding light and acknowledging the anxiety the University and College Union’s (UCU) marking boycott is it’s causing students. Addressing the “uncertainty” and “worrying” circumstances the situation has caused students, Harmon’s closing note urged students to “please reach out” to the university for “support”.

However, this was then followed by the swift deletion of comments and disabling of the feature only hours after the university published the video.

Before the comments were removed from VP Harmon’s video, commenters quickly criticised the university’s inaction in helping resolve the UCU’s marking and assessment boycott, with one student saying: “Stop saying you’re sorry for the disruption if you’re not doing anything about it. The university has the means to pay its staff a fair wage and chooses not to. You can end this, but you won’t, so what’s the point in videos like this?”

The UCU’s marking and assessment boycott is part of broader industrial action taken by university staff across the UK, expressing dissatisfaction over pay, pensions, and working conditions. The boycott has lecturers and academic staff withholding students’ marks, causing immense worry among students, particularly those at the cusp of graduation.

Addressing the action the university has taken to resolve strike action with the university’s staff, Professor Harmon said: “The university is continuing to try to find ways to bring this to an end by making appeals to staff directly.” This reassurance comes after the UCU rejected the university’s offer to reimburse striking staff for the pay (50 per cent) they had docked in April if they agreed to mark graduating students’ work.

However, another student commented: “The staff are what makes this university run, not property values or flashy marketing campaigns – it would be nice if the students weren’t being embarrassed by the university for being so unfair. The quality of teaching should be reflected in pay and job security – if we are competing internationally in quality, surely we should be competing in employee satisfaction too.”

Although some commenters took a more sarcastic tone to the university’s response to the unfurling situation, one commenter said: “Thank you good sir, it is utterly unacceptable that these people are striking. Their pay should be withheld COMPLETELY and they should banned for life from participating in academia. The only reason this university hasn’t slid down the world rankings is because of PROF SIR PETER MATHIESON.”

Although some commenters took a more sarcastic tone to the university’s response to the unfurling situation, one commenter said: “Thank you good sir, it is utterly unacceptable that these people are striking. Their pay should be withheld COMPLETELY and they should banned for life from participating in academia. The only reason this university hasn’t slid down the world rankings is because of PROF SIR PETER MATHIESON.”

— Leone Pecorini Goodall (@LeonePecorini) June 2, 2023

In the video, Harmon stated: “We realise this uncertainty is really worrying for some of you. If you’re concerned about your health and well-being or that of someone you know, please reach out. There’s a range of support available. We promise to keep you updated as the situation evolves.”

The already compromised promise to listen and support students and their mental health, however, may not come as much of a surprise. Earlier this year, the Edinburgh Tab reported that 59 per cent of Edinburgh students’ mental health deteriorated since coming to study at the university.

Students and staff at the University of Edinburgh are bracing for further tension with no immediate resolution to the UCU’s marking and assessment boycott as the university continues to dock pay from striking staff in the coming months. How the university management will steer through this crisis remains to be seen. Still, one thing is clear: open and ongoing dialogue with all parties, especially the students caught in the crossfire, will be critical.

In the video, Professor Colm Harmon said in full: “You’ll know by now that industrial action is taking place across some UK universities, including Edinburgh, in the form of a marking and assessment boycott. We know the worry this is causing after an already stressful exam period. We want you to know that we’re doing all we can to resolve this; it’s unfair that you, our students, have been caught up in a national dispute.

“Although the boycott is part of a UK-level strike action by the University and College Union, we’ve tried to resolve it locally to limit impact. We decided to deduct 50 per cent of pay from staff participating in the strike. To try and avoid any delayed graduations, we proposed to the union that we’d reverse this if staff mark the work of graduating students. We were initially hopefully the Edinburgh branch of the union would consider this offer, but sadly, it was rejected on a national level. The university is continuing to try to find ways to bring this to an end by making appeals to staff directly.

“We’re trying to give you certainty around your progression or final awards. We’ll provide more detailed communications in the coming weeks. We realise this uncertainty is really worrying for some of you. If you’re concerned about your health and well-being or that of someone you know, please reach out. There’s a range of support available. We promise to keep you updated as the situation evolves.”

The full video can be found here.

The University of Edinburgh has been approached for comment.

Featured image via the University of Edinburgh.

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