Dispute dispatches

April 21, 2006

Warwick University this week became the first confirmed university to deliver on its threat to dock the pay of staff taking part in the assessment boycott. In a memo to heads of department, vice-chancellor David VandeLinde confirms that from April 19, the university "will withhold 20 per cent of salary continuously until such time as the member of staff indicates that they are performing their full contract".

Professor VandeLinde says that the Association of University Teachers' boycott is likely to prevent students from receiving their degrees and the university cannot accept action "designed to disadvantage students".

The university is relying largely on staff to declare whether or not they are taking part in the action, which the AUT is advising them not to do. It is unclear how many union members will lose pay until salaries are collected later this month.

* Bradford University was holding an audit of its exam arrangements as The Times Higher went to press, to assess how the AUT boycott will affect students' progress. This week marks the deadline for exam papers to be set for approval by external examiners before the exam period begins on May 26. Earlier this month, the university conceded that "not all" exams had been set. The university has said that it will dock staff pay if the boycott is found to have a damaging impact.

* AUT sources say that exams are not being marked at department level at Bath University. Projects and coursework are also not being marked. The boycott is fairly well spread throughout the departments, it is claimed. There has been no talk of pay being docked, and the relationship between AUT members and non-AUT members has not been affected.

* Academics at Canterbury Christchurch University are working with the student union to reduce the impact of the industrial action. Staff have been giving students a verbal appraisal of their work, even though they will not get written grades. Richard Budden, the student union president, says this has helped students on teacher training courses who are applying for jobs in schools.

* Managers at Aberdeen University have written to staff saying the Scottish funding council's allocation for the coming year will underwrite only a 3 per cent pay rise, in line with the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association offer. Stephen Logan, senior vice-principal, has also warned that Aberdeen reserves the right to deduct pay for non-performance as of now, although he has not specified whether pay will be deducted or on what basis.

* Bristol University reports that while some departments have not been affected, the majority are feeling the impact to some extent. About 100 AUT members at Bristol have indicated that they will take continuous industrial action and are in a position to boycott assessment. Bristol is analysing which exams it may have to cancel. There have been no moves to dock pay.

* Student leaders at the University of the West of England report that about 100 students so far claim they will be affected by the boycott. Health and social care and education are likely to be the first departments to tell students that marks will be withheld. A few students have said that if they do not get their marks they will take legal action against the university.

* Students at Gloucestershire University are expecting to receive feedback but more are becoming aware that their marks will not be entered on to the university system and quantified. The local student union supports the unions' demand for a fair wage but not industrial action that affects students' degree programmes.

* No marking is being done in the German department at Birmingham University. The university is threatening to dock 10 per cent of pay from those boycotting assessment. An emergency meeting of senate is likely to waive certain regulations, allowing postgraduates to mark exams.

* Managers at Southampton University report that the dispute has had a limited effect on the university. Pay was docked for the strike day only. A spokesman said: "In terms of action short of a strike, we have not docked people's pay. However, as they are in breach of contract, the university has reserved the right to do so." The student union fears that the boycott will hit humanities and social sciences departments as well as biological sciences.

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