University of Sussex strike to disrupt degree awarding process

14 June 2016 | last updated: 15 June 2016

Staff at the University of Sussex will strike on Wednesday, causing disruption to the process of awarding degree marks, in a row over pay.

UCU members at Sussex who would normally be taking part in examination boards in the Schools of Law; Politics and Sociology; Business, Management and Economics; Life Sciences; and Psychology and Global Studies, will not attend them tomorrow. Examination boards are now in the process of awarding degree marks.

Members will be on a picket line on Southern Ring Road opposite Falmer House, on the pathway that joins the A27 Lewes Road to Falmer Railway station, and on the Knights Gate Road entrance to the campus, from 7am-3pm. 

UCU members will be leafleting members of the university Senate - a body comprising senior staff, as well as external examiners, asking them not to attend meetings scheduled that day.

The dispute has arisen following a pay offer of just 1.1% from the universities' employers, UCEA. UCU said universities could afford to pay more and the latest offer did little to address the real terms pay cut of 14.5% that its members have suffered since 2009. The squeeze on staff salaries comes despite vice-chancellors enjoying a 6.1% pay hike.

The union has also called for universities to commit to closing the gender pay gap and reducing the proportion of staff on casual and zero-hour contracts. On average, female academics across the sector are paid £6,103 per year less than male counterparts while 49% of university teachers are on insecure contracts.

Since 2010 the amount spent on staff by universities as a percentage of total income has dropped by 3%. However the total of cash in reserves has rocketed by 72% to over £21bn.

University of Sussex UCU branch secretary, Tom Frost, said: 'We are fighting for fair pay and taking a stand against the increasing use of insecure contracts which are undermining the academic role, and against the insidious pay inequality that sees many women earning less than men for the same work.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Universities need to recognise that staff will no longer accept their pay being held down while a few at the top enjoy the rewards of increased money for universities. Nobody wants to take industrial action, but clearly enough is enough.'

Members at Sussex are in the first wave of institutions that will take part in strike action aimed at disrupting open days, graduation ceremonies and key university processes meetings. More local branches are expected to announce their plans this week after union members voted to escalate their action earlier this month.

As well as walking out last month, UCU members have started working to contract, which means they will refuse to work overtime, set additional work, or undertake any voluntary duties like covering timetabled classes for absent colleagues.

The union has also called on external examiners to resign their positions on exam boards; a move which threatens to disrupt marking this summer when boards meet to discuss challenged marks. External examiners are a crucial part of quality assurance in universities, as each course requires an external examiner to ensure that an institution's assessment is fair and comparable with others.

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