The National Postgraduate Committee of the UK held its Annual Conference ending this weekend. The conference which focussed on participation and diversity in the postgraduate community was address by Dr Jon Pike, a lecturer at the Open University and a founder of Engage, the group that led the repeal of Association of University Teachers' 2005 boycott of Israeli universities. Dr Pike provided the conference with the background details to the current UCU boycott proposals and explained how the coming term would see meetings on the topic across the UK.
While saying the Palestinian university sector did need help, particularly books and equipment, he argued that a boycott was not the right tool to promote peace or indeed to help either the Palestinians or the Israelis. Rejecting the apartheid analogy as shallow and politically naive, Dr Pike added that no other country was being subjected to an academic boycott and many would be far more deserving than Israel. Even if a boycott was applied systematically, Dr Pike argued it would still be wrong in the academic sector.
Two days later at the National Postgraduate Committees AGM, Andre Oboler, an international PhD student from Australia, stood for election as a Project Officer. Project officers stand with a remit of their own devising and if elected are given a mandate to carry out their proposal. Andre who has just completed his PhD thesis will soon be off to do Post Doctoral work in Israel. He offered to act as an ambassador on behalf of the NPC, to promote the fact that the boycott noise is emanating from a minority of
academics and that both Israeli and Palestinian students were welcome in the UK. Additionally, Andre offered to serve as a local link in Israel for those NPC affiliates who wish to set up positive engagements as a means of protest against the UCUs actions.
Although an Australia, Andre is not new to representing the UK's students. He has served for two years as the Student Observer on the board of directors of the QAA, and twice before as an officer of the NPC. At Lancaster University he has served in the Graduate Students Association, the Students Union and on the Societies Union Executive Committee.
Speaking after his election Andre said "I feel confident that the support for a boycott is coming from a tiny but vocal minority, as many of our delegates to this conference have said, but I also feel the majority who oppose such boycotts can not longer remain silent. The NPC has opposed an academic boycott of Israel since before the AUT called for their 2005 boycott, and we continue to oppose it. We oppose it because boycotts do not further higher education in the UK, only collaboration and positive engagement can do this. In this new role I hope to facilitate such engagement, not only mitigating the damage the UCU are causing, but hopefully also achieving positive academic engagement between Israelis, Palestinians and UK academics as well."
Commenting on NPCs move, Yair Zivan, Campaigns Director of UJS said "UJS welcomes this latest move by the NPC and are delighted that they are working to maintain and strengthen academic collaboration. A boycott would achieve nothing to further peace in the Middle East and only through dialogue and discussion can progress be achieved. We wish Andre Oboler the best of luck in his role and will be offering our full support for his work while in Israel."