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Universities to be hit by marking boycott, union confirms

26 April 2022

UCU confirmed that 41 universities across the UK will be hit by a marking and assessment boycott in the coming months, a move which could prevent students from receiving their grades.

The decision was made by university staff at a meeting of UCU's special higher education sector conference where hundreds of delegates met from over a hundred branches and committees to decide the next steps in the pay and working conditions dispute. As well as a marking and assessment boycott, delegates also voted to hit 39 universities with a further ten days of strike action.

The union's higher education committee will now meet on Thursday 12 May to decide the exact dates that the marking and assessment boycott and strike action will take place.

Earlier this month, 85.9% of university staff who voted backed taking industrial action which would include a marking and assessment boycott. The marking and assessment boycott will see staff refusing to complete any marking and assessment of students' work, meaning students could be left without grades with some unable to graduate.

The move represents an escalation in the pay and working conditions dispute in which staff have already taken 13 days of strike action. Vice chancellors, represented by Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), have so far refused to make any improved offers.

New inflation figures mean UCU estimates staff pay is now down by more than a quarter in real terms since 2009. Over 70k academics are employed on insecure contracts. The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 16%, whilst the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is up to 17%.

UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay rise for all university employees; an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other insecure contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.

The union thanked students for the support they have shown so far during the long running dispute and called on university bosses to meet its demands so that disruption is minimised.

In a recent survey of UK higher education staff, two thirds said they were considering leaving the sector over pay and working conditions, and cuts to pensions.

The most recently published vice chancellor salaries show university bosses earn around £278k, almost ten times more than entry level academic or academic related professional staff.

Recent university finance figures show total income across the sector is £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn.

Tomorrow another special higher education sector conference meets to decide next steps in the Universities Superannuation Scheme dispute, which is over brutal cuts to member pensions.

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.'

Last updated: 3 May 2022