UCEA and UCU to discuss Marking and Assessment Boycott

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The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the University and College Union (UCU) have agreed to meet to discuss the current Marking and Assessment Boycott, which has resulted in 20% of Durham University finalists being unable to graduate with an interim or final degree qualification.

UCEA estimates that 13,000 students, 2.6% of finalists, will be affected by the Boycott, which began on 20th April 2023 and has no end date, though the mandate for action lasts until September.

In an email to all University staff, Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden at the University, wrote: “I speak for both myself and my University Executive colleagues in saying this is a very welcome development. Last week our local UCU branch confirmed in a meeting that they too welcome this as a potentially positive development.

“We need to end the stalemate and find a way forward that works for all parties. A commitment to restarting negotiations is an encouraging step.”

I speak for both myself and my University Executive colleagues in saying this is a very welcome development.

Prof Karen O’Brien

UCEA sent a letter to UCU on 4th July 2023 announcing a willingness to return to discussions after several months without negotiations. Raj Jethwa, Chief Executive of UCEA, wrote that “the purpose of such a meeting is to explore the current obstacles to a resolution and whether a basis can be identified for the resumption of negotiations”.

UCEA have since agreed to attending talks without preconditions. Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said that UCEA “specifically cit[ed] the return of deductions as something they are not willing to concede now as a guarantee.

“It is important nevertheless that we meet with them to establish if we can negotiate for an outcome that members deserve. Meeting is always the right thing to do.”

Locally, Durham UCU sent a draft they “hoped would become (or be the basis for) a joint statement on 31st May 2023 asking for a return to negotiations. It was approved by 90.7% of members to address the Marking and Assessment Boycott: “in the absence of negotiations, this dispute cannot be resolved.

“We therefore call for negotiations without any preconditions to restart immediately so that student work can be assessed as soon as an agreement is reached and approved.”

It is important nevertheless that we meet with [UCEA] to establish if we can negotiate for an outcome that members deserve.

Jo Grady

In her statement to University staff, Professor Karen O’Brien remained assured that “getting our students graduated remains a top priority.

“I am very grateful to all of you who have supported our students over recent weeks and who played a role in our Congregations, which were memorable and happy occasions. I was inspired by the enthusiasm and positivity of spirit in which our students and their supporters have engaged with these ceremonies to mark the completion of their time at Durham.”

She also brought attention to Durham University’s progression in parental leave policies and the gender pay gap, which has decreased to 19.5% from 21.2% in 2022.

“We are now one of the leading Universities for family friendly benefits,” she said, “we have agreed with DUCU (Durham UCU) that there is significant, further work we can undertake locally on the pay spine for academic staff.

“This follow the work we did to make permanent changes at the bottom of the pay spine in 2022, which resulted in a significant pay uplift for around 900 colleagues.”

Image: Tim Packer

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