Understanding the UCU Marking Boycott: A Disruption in Academic Assessment

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10 July, 2023

Laura McHugh

The University and College Union (UCU) marking boycott has emerged as a significant topic of contention within the academic community. The marking boycott is a form of industrial action employed by the union as a means to negotiate to improve working conditions and pay structures for university staff. The boycott began in April 2023 and is understood to be affecting around 150 HE institutions.

The boycott involves UCU members refusing to undertake marking, assessment, and associated administrative duties as part of industrial action, with the primary objective being to draw attention to the many issues faced by academic staff, including pay stagnation, job security, increasing workloads, casualisation of contracts and pension reforms, and prompt negotiations.

The marking boycott has significant implications for both students and higher education institutions. Students may experience delays in receiving feedback, grades, and the overall completion of assessments and graduations. Institutions may also face reputational damage due to the disruption caused by the boycott, potentially affecting student recruitment and institutional rankings.

However, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has recently released a survey to suggest that most students' assessments and graduations are not being affected by the boycott, with 50 institutions responding that fewer than 2% of students will face a delay in graduation due to the marking boycott.

Practical tips for dealing with strike action:

When faced with a marking boycott, universities must devise strategies to minimise the impact on students while addressing the concerns of the UCU. Institutions may want to consider implementing contingency plans, such as:

  • Deducting pay (or a percentage of pay) of staff who are boycotting
  • redistributing workload
  • seeking alternative methods of assessment
  • Offering a no-detriment policy to students

Albeit, these measures can have limitations and may not fully alleviate the impact of the boycott. In all cases, institutions should take legal advice on whether these proposed actions are lawful in all the circumstances, and the implications if they are not.

The UCEA has said they are "fully committed" to working with the union to resolve the dispute, but that further industrial action, such as continuing the marking boycott, may put negotiations in jeopardy. It is however anticipated that further industrial action will continue as UCU members have voted in favour of more action, which may include seeing the marking boycott progress to college institutions and schools.

For more information contact Laura McHugh in our Education department via email or phone on 0161 918 0008. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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