UCU announces marking boycott and 10 days of strikes over pay

Staff at 41 universities may refuse to assess students’ work, meaning that graduations could be delayed, but exact dates for action are yet to be set

April 26, 2022
UCU strike at Goldsmiths, University of London
Source: Eleanor Bentall

UK universities will be hit by a marking boycott and further strikes as part of a long-running dispute over pay and working conditions, but the University and College Union is yet to confirm when the action will take place.

Delegates at the union’s special higher education conference decided on the next steps after a quarter of branches polled achieved a mandate to take further action, with everything from an indefinite strike to putting a temporary pause on the industrial dispute considered.

The announcement means that staff at 41 universities might refuse to assess students’ work, including at some of the UK’s most prestigious and largest institutions, such as Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Sheffield, Newcastle and King’s College London. The UCU said this could potentially leave students without grades and delay their graduations.

The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and Queen Margaret University have mandates only for action short of a strike, but the remaining 39 institutions will also take part in a further 10 days of walkouts.

But the exact dates for these remain unknown, with the union’s higher education committee scheduled to meet to decide timings on 12 May, just weeks before universities are set to finish for the summer. The term at the University of Sussex, for example, finishes two weeks later, on 28 May, with all of this period taken up by assessments.

Staff have already taken 13 days of strike action this academic year, with the union demanding a £2,500 pay rise for all university employees as well as action on pay gaps, insecure contracts and workloads.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the escalation in the dispute reflected members’ “justifiable anger” at vice-chancellors, who “continue to ignore their concerns whilst drawing over-inflated salaries and hoarding billions of pounds in reserves”.

A further conference will be held by the union on 27 April to discuss next steps in its dispute over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme, which it says will leave academic staff thousands of pounds worse off in retirement.

The latest industrial action concerns last year’s pay award and comes as negotiations over this year’s pay round continue. Representatives from the University and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) met with the UCU and the four other higher education trade unions on 25 April after offering a 2.75 pay increase, rising to 6 per cent for the lowest paid.

Unions had demanded a pay rise of 2 per cent above RPI inflation – which hit 9 per cent in February – and a minimum wage for all of £12 an hour.

Ucea said its original offer would have put 2.9 per cent on the total pay bill, but the meeting ended with a further offer that would increase this to 3.05 per cent. Another meeting, where negotiations could be concluded, is planned for 5 May.

Raj Jethwa, Ucea’s chief executive, acknowledged that soaring inflation was disproportionately affecting lower-paid staff and said this was reflected in the offer, but he cautioned that inflationary pressures were also having a “severe impact” on the finances of higher education institutions.

Speaking about the threat of further industrial action, he said vice-chancellors would be “dismayed” at the threat of a marking boycott and accused “activists” of “pushing a small number of branches into action which will not affect the majority”.

“While the HE institutions being targeted will have long-standing plans in place to minimise any disruption to their students’ teaching and learning, this is a cynical attempt to squeeze a diminishing mandate to disrupt students’ education in HE institutions other than their own,” he added.

tom.williams@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

I realise that we have all fallen behind to an unacceptable degree but this constant eroding of differentials via higher percentages brings its own problems. There is a reason that some folk are better paid and it is usually because they are better qualified. Let us not further erode the advantage of the education process in which we work.

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