Boycott’s fallout

February 27, 2014

An open letter to Sally Hunt, UCU

We are enthusiastic supporters of the principles of unions, whereby workers unite to obtain better conditions for themselves. A good union will act appropriately to obtain better conditions. Unfortunately, the University and College Union has failed in its duty towards lecturing staff with the current dispute. Instead of using tactics that might bring employers into realistic negotiations about pay, there have been half-hearted one-day and (ridiculous) two-hour strikes. We have gone along with these reluctantly, knowing full well that employers, students and the general public would take no notice, and that they have virtually no effect on university activities.

The marking boycott, to start on 28 April, is the last straw. This is a divisive measure that goes against every principle of unity. UCU members who have marking in early May are likely to lose all their pay from that point, while other UCU members, who may have no marking until June or September, will continue to be paid in full until that point.

We have lost faith in the UCU leadership, and it is with regret that we leave the union. The UCU is unable to work towards improving lecturers’ pay and conditions and is an embarrassment to the trades union movement.

Dr Nigel Hunt
University of Nottingham

Dr Sue McHale
Sheffield Hallam University


A union official – Mike Larkin, president of the Queen’s University Belfast branch of the University and College Union – uses one of the seven deadly sins (anger) to justify proposed action that, if implemented, would cause significant harm to students who are not party to the dispute and would thereby damage the public standing of UK universities in international eyes (“Hard line on boycott could cost staff thousands”, 20 February).

Might one reasonably wonder in what sense the UCU views its members as constituting a “profession” when it is long established that those engaged in professional practice do not engage in activities that are contrary to the interests of their clients or that risk bringing that profession into disrepute?

Richard Wilson
Emeritus Professor
Loughborough University


So, hypothetically speaking…it’s July. This marking boycott has happened. A student wants to complain because tutors have not marked her work. This is a clear breach of the university assessment regulations.

The university says: “Of course we sympathise but you must understand, it’s not our problem…it was your lecturer who was on strike. We have already sanctioned them by withholding x days’ pay for partial performance of contract” (or some such line).

The student cares not about excuses and wants reasonable recognition of the disadvantage and distress she has suffered. Are students’ union complaints teams going to have to deal with this?

Is the Office of the Independent Adjudicator going to pick up these cases (the university will clearly have failed to deliver to contract)? If they do not want this to go to the OIA, how much compensation are universities preparing to pay out in damages to such aggrieved students?

Anthony Lewis

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