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University graduations at risk as union gives green light to marking boycott

17 February 2014

Students' assessments and graduations will hit by a marking boycott* if an increasingly bitter pay dispute between universities and staff is not resolved in the next two months.

UCU announced this morning that it has given the green light for its 'ultimate sanction' of a marking boycott to be implemented from 28 April if university employers still refuse to thrash out a deal over pay.

The union said that a marking boycott could still be avoided if the employers, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, agree to serious negotiations. They have so far refused to engage in any meaningful talks over pay, despite six strikes since October 2013 and increasingly vociferous complaints from students about cancelled classes and missed seminars.

UCU has not enforced a marking boycott since 2006 and said it hoped the employers would sit down and work out a pay deal in the coming weeks to avoid widespread disruption. The union has been frustrated at the employers' intransigence over pay, despite a glut of embarrassing stories about substantial rises in bosses' pay coming to light, while staff are expected to accept another real-terms drop in pay.

Staff have been offered a pay rise of just 1%, which would leave them with a real-terms pay cut of 13% since 2009. While staff pay has been kept down, vice-chancellors enjoyed an average pay rise of 5.1% last year, and an average salary of £235,000. 

Analysis of longer term pay for different professions this weekend showed that academics have slipped considerably down the economic league table, way behind the likes of doctors and bankers who were paid comparable salaries 40 years ago. It has also been revealed that UK staff are being paid less than their contemporaries in other English-speaking countries.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "A marking boycott is the ultimate sanction, but an avoidable one if the employers would negotiate with us over pay. No member I have spoken to wishes to see this dispute escalate, but in the continued absence of meaningful negotiations from the employers, we are left with no alternative.

"I fail to see how any university can claim to have students' best interests at heart if it is not pushing for talks with the union to resolve this dispute. Even now the timetable we have set provides a generous window of opportunity for the employers to address our just demands, which we, and students, hope they take.

"The strong support for our action so far demonstrates how angry staff are at the hypocrisy over pay in our universities. The employers cannot plead poverty when it comes to staff pay and then award enormous rises to a handful at the top."

Follow @ucu and the hashtag #fairpayinHE on Twitter for the latest news on the pay dispute.


The union is currently compiling guidance for members on a marking boycott which will include:

  • Not marking students' work (this includes both formative and summative assessments). Work includes coursework (essays, portfolios, dissertations, films, works of art etc.) examinations, placements, assessed presentations etc
  • Not communicating marks - either by or to administrators, colleagues, managers. Not verbally, electronically or on paper. Of course if no one does any marking at all this point is redundant, but we need to advise members what to (not) do about any work that has been marked
  • Not giving feedback on students' work in a manner from which a mark (even pass/fail) could be reasonably deducted (this is important in case universities try to progress/graduate students on partial sets of marks)
  • Not attending examination boards and any examination board preparation meetings, e.g. ones to check marks, discuss extenuating circumstances etc
  • The 'not marking' principle should apply to all categories of students. This includes overseas students taught in UK and students on professional courses who need to complete a certain stage of study successfully before being allowed into placement settings such as hospital wards, research degree students etc.
Last updated: 10 December 2015