Marking and Assessment Boycott – what does it mean for students?

On Thursday 11 May, at the emergency meeting of Senate – the governing body responsible for academic affairs – management narrowly pushed through emergency regulations with 39 votes in favour, and 37 against. This has extremely important ramifications for your degrees.

What are the emergency regulations?

These regulations allow the university to disregard some of your hard work and make ‘informed guesses’ as to what you might actually have achieved. This is especially concerning for your final year Dissertations / Projects, which may not be read at all. 

Why have they been introduced?

The emergency regulations are management’s response to the call by UCU (University and Colleges Union) for a Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB). The MAB is part of industrial action across the Higher Education sector in response to pay cuts of 25 per cent since 2008, a pay offer of less than half of current inflation this year, as well as continuing gender, race and disability pay gaps, excessive workloads and widespread casualisation.

Instead of negotiating with UCU to address these issues, University management has decided to penalise staff, degrade your degrees, undermine academic integrity, and place the global status of UK HE in jeopardy.

What are the consequences of the emergency regulations?

There are grave doubts as to whether it will be feasible to implement these regulations successfully[1]. The narrow margin in the Senate vote reflects the concern that these measures are unworkable and unfair. Some professional accreditation bodies are likely to reject them outright[2].

The implications are clear. If your degree is affected by these regulations, it will lose some of its value. Some students will be affected more than others, creating artificial hierarchies in the quality of degrees, even within a single cohort. Employers will know this. They will recognise that some degree classifications are guesstimates at best and will ‘value’ them accordingly.

What is the solution?

Instead of waging a war on its own staff, our management could push the employers’ association, UCEA, into meaningful negotiations with UCU, the union that represents your lecturers and other university staff. Instead of imposing yet another pay cut, our management could push for a serious pay offer, which takes current inflation levels into account. Instead of pretending that high workloads, pay gaps and casualisation are inevitable, University management should commit itself to concrete measures improving these situations. There is another way forward.

UCU is always ready to talk. We want to find a solution that serves everyone, staff, students and the University. You will know that we have repeatedly tried to reason with employers, but they have just not shifted their position. Unfortunately, their “solution” to this crisis is to devalue your degree and to threaten staff taking part in lawful action with punitive pay deductions of 50 per cent of full salary that will, in some cases, reduce your lecturers’ income to below the National Minimum Wage. You deserve better, we deserve better!

If you are worried about the Universities’ refusal to engage in meaningful talks, we encourage you to write to the Vice Chancellor Prof. Shearer West. Demand that she speaks up for staff and students at UoN and calls for UCEA to enter proper negotiations. You can email her and other senior managers directly by scanning the following QR code:


UCU branch at UoN

[1] The University has serious problems with the software it uses to manage student records and it is hard to believe it will stand up to the test of these emergency regulations. Many of you will already have experienced problems being enrolled on the right modules or registered for the right exams.

[2] For example, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry have already raised serious concerns. At Cambridge University, similar emergency regulations were rejected by their governing body.