Students and the Marking and Assessment Boycott

Newcastle University UCU Statement about the Marking and Assessment Boycott for Students

Watch the video below for an explanation of the marking boycott

Marking Boycott Explained

How does the Marking and Assessment Boycott affect me?

From 20 April members of the university staff union UCU have been undertaking a marking and assessment boycott. This means that your summative assessments may not currently be being marked. A marking and assessment boycott’s effects are reversible, unless management use people who should not be marking to mark scripts or exercise ‘no detriment’ policies that call into question the quality of degree results.

Why are staff taking action?

We have not had a pay rise in 14 years. Universities rely on insecure contracts for many staff. Workload and work pressures have shot up. Levels of stress and illness are extremely high. This threatens our profession and makes a university an unattractive place to work or to learn. Since the introduction of tuition fees, the salaries of university executives have skyrocketed, they have invested in new buildings. Staff and students have paid the price.

What has happened in previous Marking and Assessment Boycott?

There have been three marking and assessment boycotts at Newcastle University. In 2006, it was a national dispute resulting in the last pay rise we have had in the sector. Since then our pay to last summer fell by 25%, and the current derisory offer entails a double digit pay cut over two years. In 2006 marks were delay but the dispute was resolved before exam boards took place and all students graduated on time. In 2016, there was a local dispute over a new performance management regime which would have staff losing their jobs and intolerable pressure to meet targets. The management negotiated a settlement on the marking boycott’s first day, withdrawing the performance targets. So students were not affected. In 2022, twenty branches were engaged in a marking and assessment boycott over the same issues as this dispute: pay, equality, workload and insecure contracts. We came to a settlement with management with improvements in several areas, prior to exam boards and graduation.

So as far as this university goes, in two national disputes and one local one the worst that happened was that there was a delay in the return of marks to students. Hopefully, this will be the case this year. If the employers offer a fair deal, this can be the case again.

How has the University Executive Board responded?

Newcastle University top management have threatened to cut pay by half for the small proportion of time that your lecturers undertake marking. Many universities have taken a less intimidatory approach. They have limited the days of deductions, had lower proportions of deductions or none at all. This is an obvious attempt to threaten staff, as they have done on three occasions in the last two years. We are in a cost-of-living crisis and many will fear that they cannot pay their rent, their bills or their mortgage.

Doesn’t this just hurt students?

A marking and assessment boycott is a last resort. It is powerful and feels like the only thing that the Vice-Chancellors listen to. The people at the top of HE in this country are wrecking our jobs, our professions and your education. The flip slide of our grievances are yours. The recent reforms to the repayments of loans makes graduates pay more over the long run and makes those from disadvantaged backgrounds pay most. Our union has campaigned alongside the National Union of Students against the tuition fees regime. It doesn’t work. No other country uses such an unfair system. It is resulting in course closures, pay cuts and redundancies across our sector. Staff and student were on picket lines and protest together. Staff-student solidarity is real and your support for us is vital. We appreciate your patience, support and solidarity.

What can you do?

Write to the VC. Ask him to follow the example of Cambridge University and call for a negotiated settlement.

Contact your MP.

Support campaigns against course closures and redundancies in HE.

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