Most universities in marking boycott threaten to dock full pay

Union accuses employers of ‘needlessly aggressive and escalatory tactics’

May 30, 2022
Tommy Steele (as Scrooge) in the production Scrooge to illustrate Most universities in marking boycott threaten to dock full pay
Source: Getty

More than half the UK universities hit by a marking boycott have threatened staff taking part with deduction of full pay, Times Higher Education can reveal.

Amid widespread anger among academics, the University and College Union’s general secretary, Jo Grady, has written to higher education minister Michelle Donelan complaining of institutions’ “needlessly aggressive and escalatory tactics” in the latest round of industrial action over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Staff have been threatened with 100 per cent pay deductions for every day of the boycott at the universities of Brighton, Dundee, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Westminster as well as Queen Mary University of London and the University of the Arts London, THE has learned.

Ulster University initially said full pay would be withheld but backtracked ahead of the boycott, which started on 23 May, in favour of further talks.

Two other institutions – Kingston and Newcastle – said that full wages would be deducted but offered “ex gratia” payments of 50 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively. Bournemouth University has reserved the right to deduct 100 per cent of pay, but the amount withheld will depend on the impact of the action.

Only 19 branches of the union began the boycott as planned, with a further two – at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and the University of Glasgow – postponing involvement at the last minute in addition to the 23 branches with a mandate that had already opted against participating because of staff fatigue or because marking had already been done.

This means that a relatively small proportion of union members are bearing the brunt of the ongoing national disputes.

At Nottingham, a spokeswoman said the university “does not accept the partial performance of the contract of any member of staff and reserves the right to withhold full pay in this circumstance”.

“Pay will no longer be withheld once staff resume normal working or there is no further marking or assessment work expected of them,” she said.

But Sam Marsh, vice-president of the UCU branch at the University of Sheffield, said that his institution’s “incredibly aggressive” move “could potentially leave staff members with no pay until October, during a genuine cost of living crisis affecting many, many people, including staff involved in the boycott”.

Not all universities are choosing to deduct full pay. The University of Essex has threatened to cut 80 per cent of pay, while Goldsmiths, University of London is withholding 20 per cent, although it said this might rise.

Heriot-Watt University said it reserved the right to deduct 100 per cent of wages but planned to deduct only 30 per cent because most of the marking had been completed in advance of the boycott.

“The university considers this to be a fair and even-handed approach, particularly against a backdrop of widespread financial pressures,” a spokesman said.

The Institute of Development Studies said it would not deduct any pay for those taking part.

“Our priority is to do all we can to minimise any disruption to our students and to our ongoing research and partners globally. This is crucial as we continue to rebuild our community and maintain our contribution to the broader global recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic,” a spokeswoman said.

The University of Sussex, the Royal College of Art and Stranmillis University College were yet to publicly announce their plans.

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Reader's comments (2)

According to 'Gaming Today', the journal of the wargames and board competition industry, VCs have been into games shops buying 100-sided dice in unprecedented numbers. These dice are to be distributed to university grounds maintenance staff so they can mark student exams really quickly with little effort.
The dice have subsequently been replaced by a 2 sided coin (1st and 2.1) to ensure grade inflation keeps pace with actual inflation.