A marking boycott by lecturers that would have seen University of Nottingham (UoN) students’ work go unmarked has been delayed.
Releasing a joint statement, the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK stated that they have arranged further talks, scheduled for 15 January, and the boycott will be suspended until then.
The industrial action began on 6 November and teaching staff who supported the boycott continued to give lectures, seminars and all other support to students, but did not mark any coursework or exams.
A member of teaching staff at UoN who wished to remain anonymous told Impact, “I am in favour of action that seeks to defend workers, in this case academics and teaching staff, against sustained attempts to erode the rights they have earned through the labour they provide”.
“It is predictable that universities and related bodies such as the USS will seek to prioritise profits at the expense of the working conditions of academics”
Teaching staff at 69 universities including UoN were involved in the dispute over an attempt to change the terms of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
The union calculated that the alterations would mean that members of staff would see their pensions cut by almost a third.
When Impact spoke to the member of staff, they said, “while I was frustrated I wasn’t entirely surprised… it is predictable that universities and related bodies such as the USS will seek to prioritise profits at the expense of the working conditions of academics”.
“Both parties are committed to seeking a joint proposal for reform that offers an affordable, sustainable and attractive pension scheme, for both current and future members”
The joint statement was positive about the suspension, stating that “both parties are committed to seeking a joint proposal for reform that offers an affordable, sustainable and attractive pension scheme, for both current and future members”.
The member of staff continued to tell Impact that although they supported the boycott, “choosing to support [it] is not a decision that any academic makes lightly”.
“It is hugely regrettable that the punitive and unilateral action of the USS forces the Union to resist in such a way that will impact students. I hope that students show solidarity with their teaching staff and recognise that we are on the same side; we are trying to protect the rights of academics so that we can provide the level of teaching and overall “student experience” that students deserve”, they continued.
“Both parties are pleased that the agreement to suspend industrial action at this early stage will mean that students will not have been adversely affected and members of staff will not have had pay deducted”
The agreement also means that staff who have taken part already in the boycott will not have their pay docked, as was threatened by many universities.
At least 10 universities had announced that academics who took part in the boycott would lose 100 per cent of their pay, with other universities settling for a loss of around 25 per cent.
The delay is good news for students, who will see their work marked on time as usual. The union hopes that they will reach an agreement before January and the marking boycott will be avoided altogether.
The member of staff said, “the boycott has not been cancelled, only postponed. We reserve the right to resume the boycott in January if a satisfactory agreement is not reached. I am particularly pleased that this will minimise the level of disruption for students”.
“There are more effective actions that can be taken by staff that would cause less disruption to students”
The joint statement released stated that “both parties are pleased that the agreement to suspend industrial action at this early stage will mean that students will not have been adversely affected and members of staff will not have had pay deducted”.
Ellie Fisher, a second year Economics student, told Impact that she thought that “there are more effective actions that can be taken by staff that would cause less disruption to students”.
In October, the Students’ Union proposed a motion which read, “As some students believe that marking boycotts have a detrimental effect on students’ academic experience, do you think that the Students’ Union should oppose the use of marking boycotts in any industrial action taken by academics?”
When the referendum occurred earlier this year, it did not receive enough votes to pass and so did not become official policy.
Image: Andrew West (Flickr)