The University and College Union (UCU) has held strong on their marking boycott since April, demanding better pay from employers. Students have faced extreme delays in academic progression and graduation as a result, hitting students who already underwent changes to higher education entrance due to COVID-19 particularly hard.
The UCU is bargaining with Universities and Colleges Employers Association (ACEA) to secure fair work and fair pay for their members. Despite a number of subsequent agreements, those employed by universities and colleges have seen their pay decrease by 25% over the past 14 years. The union rejected a pay offer in April, citing that it was not enough to meet the increasing cost of living. UCU wanted to renegotiate the offer, however ACEA refused to reopen the matter.
The union balloted for a marking boycott in late April and ceased all formal marking on April 20. It was called for as a result of a ballot among members to take action short of strike (ASOS). Members are still able to lecture and teach their courses, however they should not set exams or assessment questions, mark, moderate, participate in examiners boards or provide informal guidance about a likely mark. This has left many students in limbo, with some receiving interim transcripts or “letters of completed studies”, which do not indicate whether a student has failed and needs to retake a unit of study.
Staff at 145 UK institutions have taken part in the boycott. The UCU has stated that it will continue the boycott until the dispute is settled, UCU calls off the boycott or until the end of the industrial action ballot mandate is reached.
A survey from the UCU reported that term-time only academics were working an average of 66.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) hours a week. They noted key contributory factors as increased administrative work, increase in online learning and increase in student numbers.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady, in a press release from the union about the National Day of Protest, said: ‘UCEA now has a choice, listen to the modest demands of staff and students, and work with us to end the marking boycott, or lay the ground for even more disruption in the coming months and into the next academic year.’
Staff have already taken extensive strike action in 2022 and 2023, resulting in thirteen days of industrial action from February to March this year. There were also three days of strike action in November 2022, and continued with lesser action short of a strike from November 23. This includes working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action.
The UCU also called a National Day of Protest on July 26 in preparation for continued negotiations with UCEA. They sought student support for the action, and gained the endorsement of the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK. The union has noted that the UCEA has failed to bring a new pay offer to the table, and have not offered support to staff being faced with pay cuts due to industrial action.
The UCU is an expansive organisation, and the marking boycott is in effect at 145 different institutions, with action also being taken by students in solidarity with university staff.