UCU confirms marking boycott this term

By Waseem Mohamed

The University and College Union (UCU) have confirmed plans for a marking and assessment boycott “within the coming months” following a meeting of UCU delegates at a special higher education conference. The boycott dates will be decided on 12th May.

The move will affect 41 universities including Durham, and marks a significant escalation in the action taken by UCU members on the dispute over pay and working conditions. It comes after 85.9% of staff members who took part in a UCU ballot earlier this month voted for further Action Short of Strike (ASOS), which does include marking boycotts.

The UCU previously notified members of a potential marking boycott in January if universities “failed to budge” on staff pensions. Another conference is planned on 27th April where the UCU will decide its next steps regarding the pensions dispute.

According to the UCU, the marking and assessment boycott would see “staff refusing to complete any marking and assessment of students’ work”, such as summative assignments and exams, which may mean “students could be left without grades with some unable to graduate”.

“The union’s full weight is behind every member who is taking this action on behalf of all university staff and students”

Jo Grady

The last marking boycott took place in 2014, when UCU members refused to mark student’s work over a dispute on pensions. The boycott was condemned by the Durham Student’s Union (DSU), who at the time said the boycott was “clearly not in the student’s interest”, however the DSU have yet to say if they will support this year’s marking boycott.

Speaking on the marking boycott, UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said “The decision taken by our members to escalate the pay and working conditions dispute to a marking and assessment boycott reflects their justifiable anger at university vice chancellors who continue to ignore their concerns whilst drawing over-inflated salaries and hoarding billions in reserves.

“University staff have been clear that many simply cannot contemplate staying in higher education whilst wages fall, workloads rise, and nothing is done to address the rampant use of insecure contracts or shocking equality failings. Vice chancellors should be ashamed of this record, but rather than solve this dispute they have become more intransigent than ever. Students and staff alike deserve so much better.

“The union’s full weight is behind every member who is taking this action on behalf of all university staff and students, which is the only way to secure the long term future of the sector”.

The pay and working conditions dispute is centered around four demands set by the UCU; a £2,500 pay rise for university employees, ending pay injustice, eliminating zero-hours contracts and taking action on workloads. The UCU are calling on Vice-Chancellors to make improved offers on this dispute, with the UCU saying that Vice-Chancellors, represented by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), “have so far refused” to make such offers.

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