Confirmed: UCU marking boycott to hit London universities from tomorrow

UCL tells students to ‘assume your exams and assessments are going ahead, unless your department tells you otherwise’

The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) confirmed marking and assessment boycotts (MABs) to go ahead at all universities involved in its current dispute over pay and conditions from 20th April.

This will see participating members at 145 UK universities, including 30 in London, not completing any duties related to assessments, including marking essays, invigilating exams, and helping students prepare for assessments.

The action will “carry on until the disputes are settled, or UCU calls off the boycott, or at the end of the industrial action ballot mandate [in September].” The resulting delays in finalising results can impact degree progression and graduations for students this summer.

The UCU’s general secretary Jo Grady said: “In the pay and conditions dispute, UCU members at 145 universities will now prepare to begin a marking and assessment boycott on 20th April. University staff have been clear that they want a better deal, and it is in the interests of employers to make an enhanced offer and prevent serious disruption hitting graduations.”

The UCU represents academic staff like lecturers and tutors at UK universities and colleges. Over the past few years, it has called numerous strikes, ASOS, and MABs over two disputes with their employers: one for better pay and working conditions, and the other against cuts to pensions and benefits.

The latest industrial action came after a majority of the union’s members voted to reject their university employers’ offer to settle the pay and working conditions dispute. The result is that affected universities will be hit with MABs as a part of Actions Short of Strike (ASOS) from tomorrow.

The union will also hold a meeting this week to decide further actions in the dispute, which may include further strikes.

Raj Jethwa, Chief Executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), representing all universities involved in the dispute with the UCU, said the development in the dispute is “disappointing but not surprising.”

“Although two-thirds of academics are not actually members of UCU or any union, any threat to hurt students by not assessing their work through the marking and assessment boycott is taken extremely seriously. Despite consistent feedback from HE institutions confirming low and isolated industrial action impacts, HE institutions will again prioritise mitigations to support students,” they said.

In an announcement, University College London (UCL) wrote that because “not all UCL staff are members of the union,” the impact of the MAB will vary across courses and departments and “the vast majority of staff will be assessing and marking as usual.”

The university also told students to “assume that your exams and assessments are going ahead, unless your department tells you otherwise.”

“Our priority is to minimise the impact of this boycott, and we will do everything we can to support your educational outcomes and wellbeing. In previous disputes, we have always ensured that students are able to complete their studies and graduate.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that this is the case and we will be putting in place a number of mitigation measures, for example, using alternative markers, providing guidance to examination boards, reviewing individual students’ marks profiles against achievement of the programme learning outcomes, and condoning missing marks where we can demonstrate that the learning outcomes have already been met.”

The MAB will affect the following London universities, and specific details about what the MAB will look like at individual institutions should be available on the websites of the uni or its UCU branch:

  1. Birkbeck, University of London
  2. Brunel University London
  3. City, University of London
  4. Courtauld Institute of Art
  5. University of East London
  6. Goldsmiths, University of London
  7. University of Greenwich
  8. King’s College London
  9. Kingston University
  10. London Metropolitan University
  11. London School of Economics
  12. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  13. London South Bank University
  14. Middlesex University
  15. Queen Mary, University of London
  16. Roehampton University
  17. Royal Academy of Music
  18. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
  19. Royal College of Art
  20. Royal College of Music
  21. Royal Holloway, University of London
  22. Royal Veterinary College, University of London
  23. Senate House, University of London
  24. SOAS, University of London
  25. St George’s, University of London
  26. St Mary’s University, Twickenham
  27. University College London
  28. University of the Arts London
  29. University of West London
  30. University of Westminster

The UCU noted that its members at Imperial College London are “currently outside of national pay bargaining” and have “developed local disputes over pay and working conditions.” It’s unclear whether they’ll be carrying out the MAB.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Here’s how the university strikes will impact you as London students

• ‘This is getting a bit out of hand’: London students on marking boycotts

• Russell Group uni is ‘considering using external staff’ for marking during staff boycott