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.

Dear Students

Why we are taking industrial action and going on strike

Staff in universities have experienced years of real terms pay cuts, combined with rising workloads. Structural inequalities and discrimination mean that those least able to pay the price bear the highest cost. Since the economic crisis in 2008 the real terms pay of university staff has declined by 20%. The gender pay gap across the sector is 15% while disabled and Black and Minority Ethnic staff continue to experience serious pay discrimination. In 2019-20 33% of academic staff were employed on fixed term-contracts. These were the workers who were ‘let go’ when the pandemic struck. Staff’s working conditions are students’ learning conditions. This means that your lecturers, professors, library and student services staff are working more hours for less pay. The university is simply refusing to invest in its most important resource—its staff.  This also means bigger class size for you and lecturers who are stretched thin and exhausted. If we don’t stand up, our working conditions, your learning conditions will be eroded beyond repair.

Since 2011, management has relentlessly attacked staff pensions. Every three years a valuation of the health of the USS pension fund is produced, which is based on highly dubious criteria, resulting in a large and artificially manufactured deficit. Staff are then asked to accept cuts to their benefits in order to address the deficit only to be confronted with the same scenario three years later. When the last period of industrial action ended in 2018, the resolution of the conflict included an agreement between employers and UCU to change jointly the method of how the fund is valuated. Employers, including our management, have now broken this agreement. The March 2020 valuation was undertaken at the height of the pandemic and during the first unprecedented national lockdown, when economic prospects looked particularly bleak. The valuation also once again used the same questionable method that management agreed to change in 2018. Unsurprisingly, the March 2020 valuation again produced a deficit and again we have been asked to accept cuts to our pensions, this time of about 12 per cent. We can no longer accept this cycle of ongoing cuts to our pension benefits. If we don’t stand up now, there will be soon little left of our pensions. These huge cuts to pensions are cuts to our pay—since pensions are deferred pay.

We do not want to have to take industrial action yet again. After a year of disruptions due to the pandemic, we have been looking forward to doing what we enjoy, teaching and supporting you. But management has forced our backs against the wall. We are left with no alternative. We do not take industrial action lightly. Every strike day implies a significant financial loss for us. If we do take action, it is because of the decisions that management is making regarding its priorities.

Support your lecturers and university staff, write to the Vice Chancellor and urge her to change management’s position on pensions and pay and working conditions. This is the only way to avoid industrial action.

UCU Committee at UoN