Strikes off and marking boycott cut back at UK universities

Industrial action will no longer take place at several campuses over the summer

May 20, 2022
Source: Eleanor Bentall

Strikes planned for the summer at UK universities now look unlikely to go ahead, while a planned marking boycott has been scaled back.

Only 21 of 44 universities with a mandate to take part in the boycott, scheduled to begin on 23 May, will actually go ahead with the action, with other branches opting out or postponing until later in the year.

Jo Grady, the University and College Union’s general secretary, has also emailed members to say the union will now no longer be calling 10 days of strike action, “except in branches that specifically request to take them”. This was “in response to overwhelming feedback from branches”, she added.

There have been deep divisions in the union about how to proceed with further industrial action after 18 days of strikes so far this academic year, but vice-chancellors have shown little inclination to budge on key demands such as a £2,500 pay rise for all.

Branches were given the choice over whether to proceed with the boycott, with less than half opting to do so. Institutions that will still be affected include the universities of Brighton, Glasgow, Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield and Sussex, as well as Goldsmiths, University of London and Queen Mary University of London, where there have also been local disputes.

Dr Grady said no staff member was taking the action lightly, but “cuts to pensions, low pay, insecure contracts and exhausting workloads have pushed staff to breaking point”.

The UCU has warned that universities are considering “locking out” staff by threatening to dock pay and to bring in external contractors to mark work during the boycott.

Dr Grady said any vice-chancellor considering doing this “will only further poison relations between staff and management and could lead to further disruption”.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the University and Colleges Employers Association, called on the UCU to begin consulting its members on the 3 per cent pay rise offer it made as part of the 2022-23 pay negotiations, rather than continue with industrial action over last year’s award.

He warned that institutions were legally entitled to fully withhold pay for those taking part in the boycott because it would amount to a breach of contract.

“If UCU does press ahead with a marking and assessment boycott, the minority of HE institutions being unfairly targeted are well prepared to minimise any disruption to their students,” Mr Jethwa continued.

“Feedback confirms high levels of branch uncertainty when it comes to participation in the boycott, and there are bound to be doubts among some UCU members. However, one thing is certain: the 44 HE institutions targeted have plans in place and remain fully focused on protecting students and mitigating any isolated disruption attempts to the student experience,” he said.

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