Russell Group university becomes first in the UK to end marking boycott dispute

‘Students affected will receive their classification as a matter of urgency’

A Russell Group university has become the first in the UK to end the marking boycott dispute with its local UCU branch.

Queen’s University Belfast and its local University and College Union (UCU) have reached an agreement to end the marking and assessment boycott, in what the university calls “the first settlement of its kind across the UK”.

At the uni, marking will now be completed by 7th August in order to ensure exam boards can finalise all results by the end of the summer. The move means “those students affected will receive their classification as a matter of urgency”.

“Both sides were fully aware that students were bearing the brunt of the dispute and were determined to find a resolution”, the uni said.

Since April, lecturers at almost every UK university have been refusing to carry out marking and other assessment-related work like exam invigilation. This follows weeks’ worth of strikes earlier this academic year, as staff are in an ongoing campaign for better pay and pensions, among other things.

At Edinburgh, up to 2,000 students will be graduating without marks with students saying they’ve been “forgotten” by the university. At Glasgow, the first Russell Group university to have its graduations this year, students held protests over being given certificates without having any actual degree classification. Cambridge students cannot graduate without all their papers being marked.

And at Queen’s itself, earlier this month it was reported that over 750 students won’t be getting their degrees confirmed as planned this summer. They’ll be awarded degrees, but their final results and classification are up in the air.

Only a quarter of UK uni students support the marking boycott, a survey by The Tab found last month – compared to almost three-quarters of students who supported the lecturer strikes earlier this year.

The agreement at Queen’s comes after “several weeks of intensive work” between the university and its UCU.

It includes “a cost of living supplement equivalent to two per cent of pay” and will take affect from 1st September this year. “Other issues included in the agreement are the implementation of proposals around anti-casualisation, as they relate to fixed term contracts by the end of the year and the development of a strategy by the university to address issues in relation to gender, race and disability pay gaps”, the uni says.

Beth Elder, the incoming President of the Queen’s Students Union said: “This has been an incredibly stressful and difficult time for students and we have been working hard to ensure both sides understood fully the damage that was being caused to young people looking to start their careers or continue their studies.” Beth is now calling on both the uni and staff to ensure there are no further delays in the marking process.

The UCU’s Sean O’Connell said: “Our members are fully aware of and deeply regret the impact the recent action has had on our students and we are pleased that we have reached an agreement to enable them to receive their exam results.

“This dispute is not just about pay and we are pleased that the university has also reached agreement with us on making progress in relation to casualisation, stress related work pressures and other issues that will now also be addressed.”

“We welcome the fact that locally, Queen’s had recognised the challenges that we have been raising and we now call on University and Colleges Employers Association to follow the lead and get back around the table to resolve the national dispute.”

President and Vice Chancellor of Queen’s, Professor Sir Ian Greer, said: “Clearly this has been a very difficult time for our students, we regret the distress caused at what should be a celebratory time, and we hope that this provides assurance that the issue will now be addressed.

“We are disappointed that this could not have been resolved ahead of graduations during which around 750 students will receive their degrees without classifications, but we are committed to providing an additional full graduation ceremony for them and further details will be provided in the near future.

“We are working in challenging times with funding for universities and colleges slashed by over 40 per cent since 2011 and we are anticipating cuts this year of around £11 million and it is the funding of universities that is at the heart of this dispute. The Northern Ireland funding model is not sustainable. I am keen to secure a model that will allow the sector to improve staff conditions and which is also fair to students but that can’t be resolved quickly.

“In the meantime, this is a UK-wide dispute and while we have resolved it as far as we can locally, we fully support our colleagues right to take industrial action and I am calling on renewed focus to reach an overarching agreement across the board.”

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