Universities warned of further sanctions if they dock staff pay in assessment boycott

6 November 2014 | last updated: 18 November 2019

As an assessment and marking boycott affecting over 1.2 million students starts today, UCU has written to the 69 affected universities* and warned of even greater sanctions if they dock full pay from the staff involved.

UCU members will stop marking work, returning marks and setting or sitting exams and coursework from today  in a row over proposed changes to staff pensions. The union said assessment constituted a minority of work for most academic and professional staff and it would be unjust to fine members 100% of their wages for taking part in the boycott as some hardline institutions propose to do.

The letter, sent by UCU's head of bargaining, Michael MacNeil, warns institutions that if they take a confrontational approach to pay docking they will 'only serve to exacerbate and prolong what is already a bitter dispute' and 'cause long-lasting and deep-seated harm to industrial relations at your institution.'

UCU said that as well as a backlash from angry staff it would isolate the worst culprits as pariahs within the global academic community through a full academic boycott. The full academic boycott is the union's ultimate sanction and has been used just once before in the union's history. The last time the union undertook an assessment and marking boycott was in 2006.

So far only the University of York has said it will be levying 100% pay deductions from day one of the dispute. UCU said there are clear splits on the employers' side with Imperial College proposing to deduct just 25% from staff engaged in the boycott and many other institutions taking care to reserve their right to deduct rather than setting out that intention.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Docking 100% of pay from staff who are continuing to perform the vast majority of their duties is completely unethical and risks causing greater damage to students' education. Punitive pay docking could lead to lectures and seminars being cancelled as members refuse to work for free. Any institution docking full pay and claiming it has students' interests at heart is lying.

'The union is clear that not only will we fully support any members facing punitive pay docking, but we will take steps to isolate the worst offenders as pariahs within the global academic community.

'Universities should be sending a clear message to their Universities UK negotiators that they want them to recognise the strength of views among staff and negotiate seriously before real damage is done both to students and to industrial relations.'

In its message to staff Imperial joined the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick universities in speaking out against UUK's proposals. Imperial said it was in favour of keeping a defined benefit scheme, which it believes would enhance recruitment and retention packages.

Other institutions have criticised UUK's unnecessarily pessimistic assumptions and how damaging the changes would be in terms of keeping the pension scheme competitive. A group of statisticians said assumptions used by UUK contained 'misinformation and a mistake' and were not adequately justified. The employers had previously removed a whole section from a briefing after being accused of massaging figures.

The union's letter also asks universities for an update on their position regarding negotiations in the light of the divisions in recent weeks and sets out an alternative proposals to those offered by UUK.

* The 69 universities that will be hit by the marking boycott:

Aberdeen, The University of
Aberystwyth University
Aston University
Bangor University
Bath, University of
Belfast, Queen's University of
Birkbeck College, University of London
Birmingham, University of
Bradford, University of
Bristol, University of
Brunel University
Cambridge, University of
Cardiff, University of
City University
Courtauld Institute
Cranfield University
Dundee, The University of
Durham University
East Anglia, University of
Edinburgh, University of
Essex, University of
Exeter, University of
Glasgow, The University of
Goldsmiths College, University of London
Heriot-Watt University
Hull, The University of
Imperial College London
Institute of Education, University of London
Keele University
Kent, The University of
King's College London
Lancaster, University of
Leeds, The University of
Leicester, University of
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Liverpool, University of
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
London School of Economics
Loughborough University
Manchester, The University of
Newcastle University
Nottingham, The University of
Open University
Oxford, University of
Queen Mary, University of London
Reading, University of
Royal Holloway, University of London
Royal Veterinary College
Ruskin College
Salford, The University of
School of Pharmacy, University of London
Scottish Association for Marine Science (academic partner in the University of Highlands and Islands)
Senate House, University of London
Sheffield, The University of
SOAS, University of London
Southampton, University of
St Andrews, University of
St George's, University of London
Stirling, The University of
Strathclyde, University of
Surrey, University of
Sussex, University of
Swansea University
Ulster, University of
University Campus Suffolk
University College London
University of Wales, Trinity St David
Warwick, University of
York, University of