In an escalation of the industrial dispute over this year’s “miserly” 1 per cent pay offer, academics belonging to the UCU will refuse to mark essays or exams (the union’s “ultimate sanction”) from 28 April unless an improved pay deal is agreed.
The union said today that it had given the green light to an option of a marking boycott.
Staff will also refuse to take part in examination board meetings or exam preparation discussions and will not communicate any marks to students – actions which could leave hundreds of thousands of students unable to graduate, thereby hampering their ability to find a job.
It would also cause disruptions in terms of academic progression at university as departments will not know which students have passed or failed their exams.
However, UCU members are likely to incur significant financial loss from the boycott, with many universities likely to impose 100 per cent pay deductions for “partial performance” while exam scripts remain unmarked.
It would be the first marking boycott since 2006, which led to a multi-year above-inflation pay offer, and follows three one-day strikes and three two-hour stoppages by UCU members.
“A marking boycott is the ultimate sanction, but an avoidable one if the employers would negotiate with us over pay,” said Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary.
“No member I have spoken to wishes to see this dispute escalate, but in the continued absence of meaningful negotiations from the employers, we are left with no alternative,” she added.
Ms Hunt said this year’s 1 per cent pay offer, which follows four successive below-inflation rises, has left staff with a real-terms pay cut of 13 per cent since 2009.
“I fail to see how any university can claim to have students’ best interests at heart if it is not pushing for talks with the union to resolve this dispute,” Ms Hunt said.
“Even now the timetable we have set provides a generous window of opportunity for the employers to address our just demands, which we, and students, hope they take,” she added.
A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which negotiates pay on behalf of higher education institutions, said support for the strikes had “dwindled” in recent weeks, with the “overwhelming majority of staff” not taking part.
“Higher education institutions will certainly be disappointed that the UCU is still threatening a marking boycott, as this is action that is once again aimed directly at students’ education,” he said.
“It is quite extraordinary for the UCU to be planning yet more action over last year’s pay uplifts with the 2014-15 pay negotiations due start in March, a full month prior to the start of their threatened marking boycott,” he added.
Ucea claim that last year’s pay uplift averaged 3 per cent overall because many staff enjoyed incremental pay rises and urged UCU to engage in “positive dialogue about how they could approach the 2014-15 pay round, rather than continue to dispute last year’s pay claim”.