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HE national disputes 2021

Important disputes update: changes to marking boycott in some branches

20 May 2022

Last week UCU's higher education committee (HEC) met to consider next steps in the USS and Four Fights disputes, including feedback from branches with a mandate about the marking and assessment boycott and 10 days of strike action voted for by our April sector conferences. 

Unfortunately the HEC was deadlocked, with no agreement on how to proceed. It has therefore fallen to the HE officers (HEC chair, two vice chairs, and the president) to use their delegated powers to consider and act on branches' feedback. 

Following further consultation and intensive discussions with branches, the officers agreed yesterday to honour each branch's stated preference as to whether to proceed with the marking boycott from Monday 23 May as scheduled, or withdraw the boycott for the time being (while continuing other forms of action short of a strike). 

For information about the choice your branch has made, please see this list. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact your branch

The officers have also agreed--in response to overwhelming feedback from branches--not to call the 10 days of strike action, except in branches that specifically request to take them. 

Branches have consistently asked to have maximum input and an ability to tailor the timing and nature of action to their local needs and that is what is happening. All of the requests which branches have made will be honoured and confirmation of that has been sent to branch officers earlier today. 

Branches undertaking the marking and assessment boycott have been sent detailed further guidance, in addition to guidance sent last week, and will continue to be supported to use the boycott to maximum advantage against their employer and push back against any threats of 100% deductions for taking the action. 

What happens next? 

UCU's sector conference meets on Thursday 2 June as part of our annual Congress and has important decisions to take about the long-term future of both disputes. 

There are proposals from two branches calling for immediate re-ballots in all branches, starting in June. There is a motion from another branch proposing to re-ballot all branches from October. There will be a range of other motions covering other aspects of the disputes. 

I gave members my view about what it will take to win these disputes before the April sector conferences, but the key thing is that this union is a democracy--if you want conference's decisions to reflect your views, look out for communications from your branch and for opportunities to have a say about how your branch's delegation will be voting. 

Huge challenges facing the sector post-REF 

Thousands of members will have seen or heard the deeply worrying announcements in the past week of a wave of redundancies in post-92 institutions--from Roehampton to De Montfort to Wolverhampton.  

This is not about financial need. This is about the effects of marketisation. It is about the capriciousness of research funding allocations and unregulated student recruitment. It is about the narrowing of provision, as the government fixates on spurious metrics of employability while universities give up on offering a broad, comprehensive range of teaching and research to the communities they serve. 

These branches will get the full support of their regional offices and head office and I am sure the whole union to beat these cuts. It will take a massive effort but we have saved hundreds of jobs from attacks like these in the past and we can do it again--just remember the similar dispute at another post-92 university, Chester, last summer, where the branch stopped a massive round of compulsory redundancies

At the same time, we also need to look at sector-wide answers to the underlying issues. That is why I am glad to announce that UCU's higher education committee recently decided to investigate new policies on student distribution that could reduce volatility in student intake and place the whole sector on a more stable footing. This work will now be taken forward as a matter of urgency and you will hear more about it in due course. 

In solidarity

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 20 May 2022