Cambridge Uni and UCU call for an end to marking boycott in joint statement

Cambridge is the first university in the country to issue a statement regarding the boycott with its UCU

This morning (22/05), Cambridge University, along with the UCU Cambridge branch, issued a joint statement calling UCEA back to negotiations in order to reach an agreement over the marking and assessment boycott. The statement, made by Dr Anthony Freeling, Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and Michael Abberton, Branch President of UCU Cambridge, will be published on the University website and social media.

This comes as the Regent House voted against emergency powers that could have protected students from the consequences of the boycott. Although Cambridge issued a list of FAQs for students regarding the boycott, these were Raven protected and so this marks the first time they have issued a public statement. It also makes it the first university in the country to do so.

It was also organised for students to mobilise to #SettleTheDispute today at midday outside Great St. Mary’s in which they “demand that this uni takes active action.” It has been confirmed via Twitter that the rally will still occur despite the recent announcement.

Finalist Clarissa Salmon (she/her) said “Student organising in support of the union is clearly effective. Three hours after we emailed the open letter (19/05) there was a password-protected statement agreeing with our demands, and three days later (22/05) the university released a joint statement with Cambridge UCU.” Today marks the date that students had requested the university to take action by.

The statement by Cambridge UCU and University reads that “it is regrettable” that the national pay dispute has “reached a point whereby a marking and assessment boycott has been called.”

The representatives recognise that “it is likely to have a significant impact on students at Cambridge, and across the country.”

Students have taken to Twitter over the injustices that this year group has faced as now finalists at university, especially given the consequences of the pandemic. The issued statement recognises this too.

Picketers at an UCU Strike at Michaelmas (Image credit: Felix Armstrong)

The statement continues: “no-one wants students to suffer further” and that they are “deeply sympathetic to the strength of feeling in our student body.”

Cambridge UCU and University also recognise that it is “a stressful and anxious time” for many staff. This follows on from a statement made by Jo Grady, the general secretary of UCU, which clarifies that students across the country understand the effect that staff working conditions have on their own learning conditions and members are “proud to have their support in these disputes.”

Both institutions wish for “this dispute to be resolved as quickly as possible” so that students do not have further delays in the exams being marked. However, it does recognise that this requires negotiations, so they jointly have called for negotiations between UCEA and UCU “to restart to reach an agreed settlement.”

There’s no doubt that they would like for these talks “to happen urgently, for the sake of our students, staff and members.”

(Image credit: Felix Armstrong)

In another statement issued by Abberton, it states that by deciding to work with Cambridge UCU, the University “is demonstrating forward-thinking leadership, and such efforts should be acknowledged. This extraordinary action from Cambridge management has the potential to break the deadlock,” and “opens the door for other institutions to make similar statements.”

He hopes it will “encourage others to do the same, and pressure UCEA to come back to the table with an acceptable offer which addresses the financial pressure our members are under from the cost-of-living crisis and brings this dispute to a swift end.”

He wishes “to pay tribute to the hard work and sacrifice of our members in organising this campaign, and to our students whose support throughout has been crucial.”

Finalist Harvey Brown also stated “This must be the start of continued lobbying from the University, who are powerful members of the employers association. If management understood the stress that both finalists and staff are under right now they would be expending every possible effort to work towards a deal with UCU.”

After having issued the public statement, Dr Anthony Freeling also took to replying to the students’ Open Letter which had over 1140 signatories when it was sent on the 19th May. He stated that he understands “the strength of feeling on this urgent issue” and assured students that “all exam papers will be marked” because “anything else would compromise our academic standards, which we will never do.” He concluded the letter, which also had today’s statement embedded, by saying that he hopes “by working closely together, and with urgency, our joint voices will have an impact.”

(Image credit: Felix Armstrong)

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “We welcome the statement from the University of Cambridge which is a hugely significant moment in these disputes. Rightly, Cambridge can see that the only way to find a resolution so students can progress is by getting back around the negotiating table.”

“If UCEA fails to listen to universities like Cambridge, a national degree scandal is coming around the corner. It’s time to get serious, and fast. Other universities now need to follow Cambridge’s lead, show that they care about their students and call on UCEA to re-enter negotiations and end the dispute.”

When contacted for comment, Raj Jethwa, UCEA Chief Executive said, “UCEA welcomes the call for UCU to return to negotiations. The ball is in UCU’s court and we are sat at the negotiating table, waiting for UCU and the other trade unions to join us and discuss the important pay related issues, as agreed in the Acas facilitated agreed terms of reference.”

“As UCU knows, negotiations on pay were completed in mid-February, but Acas talks continued and led to concrete proposals in relation to the reform of the pay spine; the disability, ethnicity and gender pay gaps; workload, and contract types. These proposals were renegotiated and agreed line by line with UCU’s negotiators.”

“The University of Cambridge is one of the 144 HE institutions that took part in the 2023-24 pay round and its message is clear in urging a return to negotiations on the basis of the Acas terms of reference. UCEA has not withdrawn from negotiations. On 11 May we wrote to UCU and the other unions emphasising our strong desire to begin constructive dialogue with the trade unions on the basis of the Acas terms of reference.”

“We urge UCU to provide clarity and honesty to its own members, particularly those who are attempting MAB to target students. And UCU’s pending 2023 Congress, with a long list of HE IA motions, must avoid its usual infighting and carefully consider students and members, as this looks to be a last chance for an agreed solution to return to the table.”

“In response to our letter of 11 May UCU has to date failed to assure us that they will re-engage in talks to discuss the pay related items on the basis of the Acas terms of reference.”

This is a live story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Featured Image Credit: Felix Armstrong