The UCU Marking Boycott: Where we stand.

Recently, it was announced that members of University and College Union (UCU) will begin a boycott of the marking process from 28th April 2014 unless a resolution to the pay dispute can be reached before then. This is the latest stage in a ongoing campaign for fair pay in Higher Education.

The Union of UEA Students has voted to support the campaign and any potential marking boycott in belief that our staff deserve a salary that keeps pace with inflation, thus facilitating a consistent standard of living. It is strongly held that reaching a fair pay settlement is the most effective way to resolve the dispute.

See our Policy UCU Marking Boycott – Standing By Our Staff passed on the 20th March 2014 here, and find our FAQs below:

1) What is a marking boycott?

Under a marking boycott, UCU members in universities will cease to carry out tasks relating to marking, course work assignments, examinations or any other formal assessment of students’ work.

2) Why are University Staff taking action?

By July, academic pay will have fallen by 14.5% since 2009. This will result in one of the worst pay cuts in any UK profession since WW2. At the same time, the price of many basic necessities such as food, rent and energy have increased at a rate well above inflation and the pay inequality in Higher Education has risen dramatically.

3) Why is this action necessary?

UCU is in dispute with university employers over staff pay and the boycott is part of their lawful industrial action. This is not a decision they have taken lightly. UCU members do not want to take any action which damages the interests of students, and a marking boycott is regarded as a last resort.
Six separate strikes, over a period of five months, have failed to bring employers back to the table for serious negotiations over pay. In addition, UEA University senior management have punitively attacked staff standing up for their rights by deducting an entire day of pay for 2 hour strikes. This displays a clear lack of commitment from Universities to resolve the dispute.

4) How does this affect students?

If there is no resolution to the dispute with university leaders by 28th April, lecturers will stop marking work. They will continue to teach and take seminars and lectures. But they will not mark any work. That means that staff participating in the boycott will not mark or provide grades for any assessed work.

5) Who can put an end to this?

The student union is calling on the Vice Chancellor, Edward Acton, to protect students and help stop the marking boycott – to resolve the dispute with a positive outcome for all. He should back fair pay in his role as UEA’s representative in the University & College Employers’ Association (UCEA, which controls the employers’ side of any negotiations).

6) Can the University afford to pay a higher wage to staff?

Yes they can. Collectively, Universities are in very good financial shape. UEA will claim that it does not run excessive surpluses, which is true, however our Vice Chancellor’s pay increased by 8.6% just last year. The truth is that university leaders who are content to award themselves handsome executive salaries, and charging you £9000 a year for your education, are doing everything they can to avoid paying staff a fair wage.

7) How poor is the pay deal for lecturers?

Our staff earn less than academics in most of the English-speaking world, including the USA, Canada and Australia. Lecturers train for years to become highly skilled professionals. Many of the younger ones coming into the system have student debts to pay off. Many thousands are employed on short-term contracts, many paid only by the hour and some even employed on zero-hours contracts.

These people really struggle to make ends meet or to build a career. Even those fortunate enough to be more established are struggling to make ends meet and support their families as their pay loses value and the bills just get higher.

8) Will the boycott stop me from graduating?

Assessments will not be marked after April 28. If you are a graduating student, this could mean that you will have to wait longer than usual to graduate. This is a national boycott, so if you are applying for work or further study, it should not be a major disadvantage in comparison to other graduates. However, it should be noted that, since our University graduation dates are earlier in comparison others nationally, there is a greater chance that it will be disrupted and delayed by the boycott. We will keep you posted on this particular question.

9) What about PhD students with teaching responsibilities?

Collectivism is a core value of our Union, and it is strongly held that large scale support will be crucial in reaching a pay settlement as soon as is possible. If you are a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant, we encourage you to joint the UCU trade union and take part in the action. There is a small membership cost, but the trade union will support you through the process and answer any questions about how to implement the boycott.

There is chance that UEA will ask postgraduates to assist with extra marking responsibilities during the boycott. Please be aware that this may undermine your colleagues who have taken industrial action. Ultimately, our opportunity to win rests on concerted and widespread action that cannot be ignored. If the boycott is weak or undermined, it is more likely that the dispute will drag out further unnecessarily and cause harsher disruptions, which is no good for students.

10) Why should I support staff?

Whilst the prospect of students not being able to graduate or progress with their course is disgraceful, the sole responsibility for this lies with University management and UCEA, not individual staff that are fighting for the pay they deserve.

When you pay £9000 every year for higher education and you take on a debt that will stay with you for a lot of your life, you have a right to know that you can expect high quality teaching and contact time. When you see disruption, it is natural to feel angry at your lecturers or their unions. 
But we would ask that you look below the surface and direct your anger at the people who are really responsible for this disruption, the vice-chancellors with an average salary of £250,000, sitting on big surpluses and huge reserves who are willing to put your education on the line rather than invest in their staff.

University leaders seem to have forgotten that they are not the university, nor does the university belong to them. It is the staff and the students who make a university. These are people who refuse to invest in staff and who actively undermine the quality of education fit for the sector, let alone a bloated salary and a 6% pay rise.

11) What can I do?

  • We are asking that you email our Vice Chancellor, Professor Edward Acton, calling on him to press national negotiators to make our staff a better offer. Help us to get the universities back round the table and end this damaging dispute before it disrupts your study. Click here for our draft email!
  • Speak with your lecturers and other university staff and let them know you support them.
  • Keep up to date. See our news section of the blog. We will be posting updates, events, and opportunities for you to get involved in the campaign.

If you have any queries, please feel free to drop by the Student Officer Centre in Union House any time, 9am-5pm on weekdays, or email union.communications@uea.ac.uk.

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