Pay dispute continues: History students hit with exam boycott threat

Graduation and dissertations in trouble as staff get serious about the marking boycott

History students have been threatened with a marking boycott – and it could mean dissertations won’t be marked.

You might be busy working on your dissertations – but it looks like all that work could go to waste if a uni staff pay rise isn’t agreed.

In an email sent out to History students last week, staff claim that they will refuse to mark any work after April 28th if nothing is done about poor pay.



It’s the latest threat from uni staff in the pay rise saga. And with 30% of Newcastle Uni staff being members of UCU, Unite, or Unison, it’s not just History students who should be worried.

If an agreement isn’t settled between staff and the universities before the summer, third year students across the country could be hit with the disruption, with rearranged graduation ceremonies possible.

Third year English student Megan Cunningham told The Tab:

“While I can understand the lecturers’ frustration, it doesn’t feel fair that exam marking and ultimately graduation could be compromised. My Mum has already booked flights and a hotel for the expected graduation date, and if it’s cancelled, that’s a lot of money wasted”.

But is it fair to criticise staff for threatening such action? The 1% pay rise that staff receive annually doesn’t even cover inflation.

In 2013, the UK inflation rate averaged 2.9%, and as such, staff experienced almost a 2% drop in pay last year. Is this acceptable?

History lecturer and UCU member Dr Matt Perry told The Tab:

“After a five month dispute without the university managements moving one iota, it is unfortunate that the only thing that they take any notice of is a marking boycott.

“I know there is a lot of anxiety about this amongst students. In my experience, in past disputes using this sanction, the worst that has happened is a delay in marking.

“In 2006, graduations took place on time. There is a long time before that, precisely to give management the time to improve their offer, which is the third annual pay cut in a row. We are put in this position very reluctantly.

“But if university staff are undervalued, it damages students, so we feel that we have to take a stand. If the Vice-Chancellors get their way, staff will feel underpaid, demoralised and bullied into submission.

“In my school, we have had a lot of support from our students and we thank them for that. I think they realise that the university is about the intellectual exchange between staff and students, and that is what government and university managements need to recognise”.

Supporting staff in their fight for more pay, third year History and English student Molly Deaville told us:

“As a final year history student, more than 30% of my degree will be affected by the marking boycott. But that is not to say I do not fully support the academic staff’s right to fair pay. I sincerely hope that the UCEA presents the UCU with a decent offer before the boycott has chance to take effect.

“It is extremely sad that lecturers must resort to such measures to merely get to the negotiating table. I encourage my fellow students to support our academic staff and to further pressure the university to show their support for fair pay. The excellent standards of teaching are Newcastle University’s best asset and I know I speak for many history students when I say that we support them 100%.”

It’s not the first time UCU have been stuck in a bitter pay dispute. Back in 2006, when lecturers refused to set or mark exams, and took ‘Mark and Park’ action – they marked coursework but declined to give any results back to students.

But eventually a pay-rise was agreed and students were able to graduate that year. Is it right that our graduations could be jeopardised by a marking boycott?

With increased tuitions fees meaning universities are more cash-rich than ever, should the hardworking staff, without whom universities simply couldn’t function, be seeing the benefits?

A Newcastle University Student Council meeting is being held next Thursday at 5pm in NUSU History Room, and student opinion on the matter is very much encouraged!