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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
University goes it alone on pay
Students fear the action will stop them graduating
A university has made its own pay offer to its academic staff, as a UK-wide marking boycott increasingly threatens students' graduation prospects.

St Andrews University has proposed a three-year deal with rises of 5% in August and 3.5% in 2007 and 2008.

Nationally lecturers' unions Natfhe and the AUT are boycotting marking after rejecting 3% this year and 3% next.

The AUT locally recommends accepting the St Andrews offer but nationally wants its members not to break ranks.

'Protecting rights'

Staff are voting on it. The result is due on Thursday.

The move came as national-level talks had reconvened under the auspices of the conciliation service, Acas.

This is wonderful news and means that everybody will be able to graduate on time this summer
Ben Reilly
University of St Andrews Students' Association

If its offer is accepted the university expects to ensure the smooth running of its exams, due to begin on 13 May.

The university said it was protecting "the rights of all St Andrews students to complete their exams and to graduate as expected".

This was "a responsible and appropriate institutional response to the need to protect the interests of all students and staff".

The nationwide pay dispute has become increasingly fraught.

The AUT and Natfhe held a one-day strike last month and have since been boycotting marking students' work.

The AUT has also instructed its members to refuse to set exams.

Time pressures

Growing numbers of students' unions are voicing concern over the boycott.

Ben Reilly, director of representation at the University of St Andrews Students' Association, said: "The deal ... is conditional on all work being marked and exam papers submitted in time to allow all modules to be completed on time.

"This is wonderful news and means that everybody will be able to graduate on time this summer.

"All that is now required is for the local members to vote to agree it."

St Andrews's stance is unusual. A number of universities have been taking a very different line, exploring sanctions against staff they say are breaking their contracts by pursuing industrial action.

'Hitting hard'

AUT general secretary Sally Hunt said: "This development is extremely bad news for the employers' negotiators.

"It is further proof that the splits in their ranks are as serious as we first believed."

But she added: "My advice to members at St Andrews is that they wait for a national settlement as the dispute is a national one and I will be advising them accordingly.

"Members' action is hitting hard and the employers really now must present us with a credible national offer to get this dispute resolved as quickly as possible."

A Universities and Colleges Employers Association spokesman said: "We urge the AUT to take note of the significant majority of students who are opposed to the current industrial action and take steps to look at the consequences of that action on students' degrees and employment prospects."

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