Union action stalls London Met graduations

July 22, 2005

Thousands of students may be unable to graduate from London Metropolitan University as planned this summer because of a marking boycott by academic staff, writes Phil Baty.

Lecturers' union Natfhe said this week that its members had not yet provided exam results for "several thousand" final-year students. In some departments, it said that up to four fifths of students had been affected by industrial action, which will also hit summer resits and progression from one year to the next.

The union has been in dispute with the university for more than a year over moves to impose new contracts on staff of the former London Guildhall University. It has been boycotting all marking and assessment since an unprecedented week-long strike in May.

The university was unable to confirm the union's figures for non-graduating students before a meeting of its awards board, scheduled for after The Times Higher went to press this week.

But it states on its website that while "many" degree-module results were published on time earlier this month, "a significant number are currently showing as deferred".

In a letter to all students on June 30, deputy vice-chancellor Robert Aylett says: "Teaching staff who belong to this trade union have been advised by the union not to release marks and grades for items of assessed work.

"The university regrets, therefore, that there might be significant disruption to the assessment process. In particular, it might not be possible to confirm module outcomes for the affected modules. Also, it will not be possible to make any awards based on these modules. The university... regrets that Natfhe members have chosen to take this action."

The union's representatives stormed out of a meeting at arbitration service Acas this week after accusing the university of planning to deduct "a punitive" 80 per cent from the pay cheques of all staff participating in the industrial action, for the partial performance of duties.

A breakthrough seemed to be emerging this week, but it could be too late for students due to graduate. As The Times Higher went to press, Natfhe was due to confirm a suspension of its industrial action to allow two days of talks to take place at Acas, after apparently securing a commitment from the university to reduce the level of salary deductions.

This means that lecturers will begin marking papers and releasing results.

However, few of these will be ready in time for the awards board meeting, and many could be weeks away.

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