Marking boycott delayed

Chris McLaughlin

Delayed graduations and examination chaos remain a possibility as university staff and employers continue to be deadlocked in UK-wide negotiations over pay.

In what has been seen as the ultimate escalation of the dispute, members of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents lecturers and academics, announced in February that they would begin a marking boycott on 28 April if the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) did not make an improved offer on pay. Under the terms of the industrial action, UCU staff would refuse to mark coursework and examinations as well as declining to participate in the work of exam boards. Such action would constitute the first marking boycott since 2006.

An offer has now been made of an  of 2% pay increase for all higher education staff. Members of the UCU will hold a ballot on the offer and the UCU has stated any boycott will be delayed until Tuesday, 6 May ‘so that the new offer can be fully considered’. It is unclear at this time if this offer will prevent boycott action.

Such a boycott could theoretically delay graduations until after the conclusion of pay negotiations, whilst lower year students could potentially face difficulties in progression from one year to the next. Simultaneously, re-sit diets could be plunged into disorder as students encounter delays in receiving the results of initial examinations.

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: ”We very much hope that the dispute with the trades unions can be settled as a marking boycott will impact on students at what is the most critical time of the year. If no resolution is, or seems to be forthcoming, we will issue guidance to students and are in discussion with the SRC about the most appropriate timing for this.”

Representatives from the collected trades unions met with the UCEA on 26 March, however the employers’ side made no improvement to the 1% pay rise offer which they first proposed last summer.

UCU members have been in dispute with the UCEA for the whole of the 2013-14 session, striking a total of six times since October 2013, with three one-day actions as well as three two-hour walk-outs. They have been joined in these strikes by members of other unions such as UNISON, Unite and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) who between them represent administrative staff, technicians, support workers, librarians, as well as teaching staff unaffiliated to the UCU.

Unions claim their members’ pay has fallen 19% as compared to inflation since 2009 and have demanded an above inflation settlement. UK inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) was 1.7% in February whilst the corresponding figure for the Retail Prices Index (RPI) which includes accommodation costs was 2.7%. Unions claim increased revenue from increased tuition fees as well as healthy cash reserves makes such a resolution affordable. They also point to substantial wage increases recently awarded to senior university administrators as evidence that funds are available.

At the time of going to press the UCU had declared it’s committee would consider the ballot results on Friday, 2 May.