Private messages show Scottish university chief wanted to inflict 'pain' on staff taking part in industrial action

The WhatsApp messages were sent by a key figure in the UK marking boycott dispute

A Scottish university chief is under fire after private messages revealed he wanted to inflict “pain” on staff participating in a marking and assessment boycott.

The WhatsApp messages were sent in May by George Boyne, who is principal of Aberdeen University and also chairman of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA).

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They have been exposed following a Freedom of Information request from The Gaudie, the student newspaper at Aberdeen University.

The University of AberdeenThe University of Aberdeen
The University of Aberdeen

The messages emerged as The Scotsman reported that a Canadian exchange student at Edinburgh University faces being forced to leave Scotland in just two weeks because she is unable to graduate as a result of the marking and assessment boycott.

On May 10, the memos show how Professor Boyne reacted to being told that salary deductions for staff taking part in the industrial action would not start until the end of June.

He wrote: “Nothing deducted until the end of June? I’d prefer pain along the way – we can return their money if they change their mind and do the marking.”

The marking and assessment boycott has been underway at universities across the UK since April amid a dispute over pay and conditions.

Prof Boyne is a key figure in the controversy, with UCEA having come under pressure to negotiate an end to the row with trade unions.

In other communications released to The Gaudie, the Aberdeen University principal described the boycott as a “horrendous infliction of misery” on students. Mary Senior, Scotland official at the UCU union, reacted to the release of the messages.

“It’s really disappointing to see university bosses wanting to punish staff for participating in legitimate action short of strike, and that inflicting this ‘pain’ on staff seems more important that trying to get a resolution to the dispute,” she said.

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"Workers do not take industrial action lightly, and losing a disproportionate amount of pay for action short of strike during a cost-of-living crisis is hitting university workers hard.

"We’re urging university bosses to put as much effort into getting back round the table and resolving the dispute, as they seem to be putting into causing their staff pain along the way.”

An Aberdeen University spokesman told The Gaudie: “Throughout the marking and assessment boycott, the university remained strongly focused on protecting the interests of our students to ensure that all those due to graduate could do so, and with a classified degree. Likewise, that students could progress to the next year of their studies.

“Regarding the messages, which were exchanged prior to the boycott starting at a time when we’d hoped action could be avoided, the context makes clear that this refers to the financial pain associated with pay deductions, as leadership teams across the sector discussed potential options to encourage participants to mark and avoid negative consequences for students and staff.

"This was entirely consistent with our focus on ensuring that students could graduate or continue with their studies.”



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