Since October 2013 the University and College Union (UCU) has staged a series of strikes over their 1% pay increase, which in real terms equates to a 13% pay cut since 2009. Students across numerous UK universities have been affected by cancelled lectures, seminars and office hours. But the latest action the UCU is to embark upon has riled students to another level and left others with mixed feelings. A marking boycott due to commence on 28th April, Union members will refuse to mark assignments, exams, dissertations and lab work, which could even result in disrupting 3rd years graduating.
The UCU’s main reasoning for the strikes and why they have been “pushed” to the extreme lengths of the boycott is due to Vice Chancellors enjoying an “average pay raise of 5.1% last year and an average salary of £235,000,” whilst lecturers received the real terms pay cut. Though the Union states the boycott could still be avoided if, as Sally Hunt UCU general secretary stated, “one of the employers would negotiate with us over pay.” Hunt went further to say “we have provided a generous window of opportunity for the employers to address our just demands, which we, and students, hope they take.”
It seems bizarre for the UCU to be speaking on behalf of the students however, as many are very disgruntled over the proposed marking boycott. Some have commented “where were they when we were protesting over the rise of our tuition fees?” and “We pay £9k. Marking our essays is their job…Sick of students been inadvertently affected, punishing us even though we are paying more. Getting ridiculous.” However, opinions are mixed and some students support the UCU actions stating “It makes me angry that they’ve been driven to the boycott, not the boycott itself… the strikes have been pretty ineffectual and this will make higher authorities listen I guess.”
Last week Lancaster University students received an email warning of the proposed boycott stating “We have taken steps to try to minimise the impact on students if the marking boycott nevertheless goes ahead. Most students should be able to graduate or progress normally.” Details of these “steps taken” are still unknown and students took to writing on the Student Union chalk board in Alex Square to state their discontent over the boycott.
Just as students suffered as a consequence to the strikes earlier in the academic year, they will continue to suffer if this marking boycott goes ahead. Paying for a University degree is like paying for a service and if this boycott goes ahead students will not be getting the service they deserve and are paying for. It is unfortunate that UCU deems the threat of not mark student’s work as a necessary and effective step in order to achieve their demands. Hopefully talks between the Union and employers will succeed in preventing this action from going ahead.
By Lizzie Roberts
[Image Credit: Marlon E]