Leading article: Show of support comes at a price

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The Independent Online

The lecturers' industrial action has reached a critical stage. Students are to sit their exams next month and every day that passes without a resolution in sight makes it more likely that they will be unable to graduate this summer. It is not surprising that some student unions have begun to get restless and to challenge the united front of the National Union of Students and the lecturers' unions.

It is, in a sense, student unions coming of age. The advent of top-up fees combined with the new-found militancy of their lecturers, and especially of the Association of University Teachers, has concentrated their minds like nothing else could have. Paying fees makes students more hard-headed about what they are studying and what they are going to do with their higher education. The thought that they might not get the degrees they have paid for is sobering enough. Then they discover that the very people denying them the degrees are their lecturers, who should have their best interests at heart. No wonder they are complaining that the action will undermine years of close relations between lecturers and students.

As EDUCATION went to press the employers and lecturers were taking part in talks about talks to try to get negotiations going. There has, as yet, been no negotiation on pay between the two sides. The employers have refused to talk unless the academics call off their action for a day or so while negotiations take place; the academics have refused to abide by that condition or to talk until they get what they call "a serious offer".

With the rhetoric heated on the AUT side, the prospect of the talks leading anywhere did not look good. The hope now must be that both sides will invite in either ACAS or the TUC. The latter were called in the last time that academics took industrial action in 2004 when again the AUT embarked on a campaign of action from which there was no exit without Brendan Barber's help. The alternative may be that the employers give the lecturers' unions a deadline by which time they will impose a settlement.

It is understandable that the National Union of Students wanted to return the support that it was given by the AUT and Natfhe over top-up fees. But it should have seen the grief that this would bring.