Following the University’s update on the Marking and Assessment Boycott last week, we, The SU Officer team felt it appropriate to update our student members on the work we have been doing to mitigate the impact should the Boycott take place.
What is the Marking and Assessment Boycott?
On Wednesday 5 April, members of the UCU Higher Education Committee (HEC) served notice for a marking and assessment boycott (MAB) to begin from Thursday 20 April 2023. This Boycott is aimed at securing an improved offer from university employers on pay and conditions (see below). The Boycott encourages UCU members to cease undertaking all summative marking and associated assessment activities/duties. The boycott will take place until the pay dispute is settled, or UCU calls off the boycott, or at the end of the industrial action ballot mandate (usually six months after the industrial action ballot closes). The University of Bath considers the boycotting of marking and assessment to constitute partial performance of employee duties and plans were announced at Senate to deduct 50% of participating staff’s wages for the period they engage in the Boycott should they inform the university they’re boycotting.
Whilst the Boycott started nationally on Thursday 20 April 2023, our local UCU branch has recommended to its members that they postpone starting to boycott marking and assessment by two weeks, until 2 May as local discussions are still taking place with University management to identify means to pressure national negotiators to find a possible solution to see the Boycott called off. It is worth noting that members of staff are legally able to start the Boycott from the 20 April and this may therefore mean that some University of Bath staff may have already started participating in the Boycott.
How did we get here?
On 24 October 2022, members of the University Colleges Union's (UCU) voted Yes to Strike Action and Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) in relation to two separate disputes with university employers: firstly, over cuts to pensions, and secondly, pay and conditions. In January, following three days of strike action in November/December, Universities’ representatives offered a 5% pay uplift for 2023-2024. This offer was rejected by 85% of UCU members in a consultative ballot. Eleven days of strike action were then called during February and March, although some strike dates were called off to allow negotiations.
Following a lack of further action/agreement. On Wednesday 5 April, the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) voted to commence a national Marking and Assessment Boycott (a form of ASOS), notifying universities it would start on Thursday 20 April 2023.
In the meantime, a consultative ballot of UCU members was undertaken on the proposals in both disputes, with the announcement on April 17 that union members had voted to agree the proposals in the pensions dispute (85% support) but voted to reject the proposal on pay and condition (56% rejecting). As a result, the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) would not be called off but would take place solely focused on securing an improved offer on pay and conditions.
What is The SU's stance?
For context, following our SU referendum in February 2023 asking, “Should the SU support UCU industrial action until the end of the academic year 2022/23?” - our members voted against the question, which therefore means as an SU we are not in favour of any action taken by the UCU regarding strikes or actions such as boycotts. To defend this stance, at Senate on 19 April, our Education Officer, Julia Kildyushova, stated to members that ‘As an SU our students voted against Industrial Action taken by UCU, we are therefore not in a position to support the Marking and Assessment Boycott, we will therefore work with the University to mitigate their impact for our students’.
The following is a summary of actions so far taken by The SU...
On learning that the Boycott could be imminent, our Postgraduate Officer Jura Neverauskaite, and Education Officer, Julia Kildyushova have so far...
- Immediately sent a list of questions to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and the Doctoral College, that we believe will be important to students and requested answers to inform advice and information that can be shared with our student community. This included specific questions for finalists, doctoral students and international students.
- Met with Pro-Vice Chancellor (Education) and Director of Academic Registry, to understand what the University is planning to do to mitigate the potential impact of a Boycott and to understand in further detail what the impact on students may be. Following this meeting, weekly meetings have now been put into the calendar to keep us up to date and to provide an opportunity to regularly give feedback on student opinion and concerns on the emerging situation.
- Met with UCU Bath Branch President. Jura and Julia used this opportunity to understand in further detail the purpose of the Marking and Assessment Boycott and discuss what has so far happened in the lead-up to the Boycott being announced. Following this meeting, weekly meetings with Bath UCU are being planned to ensure that The SU is updated on any developments.
- Met with relevant SU staff to plan our response to the Boycott and identify how and where students can get support.
Please note - A major point of importance from our discussions is that whether the Boycott occurs or not, the expectation for students is for you to continue working on your assessments and prepare for deadlines and exams or continue with your research activities. As outlined in recent University communications your Department remains the best source of detailed information, so please contact your personal tutor or Director of Studies if you have specific questions.
At this stage, we are still waiting for the following...
- At this current time, we are still awaiting answers to the questions we sent to the University on 10 April. We appreciate that the University may still lack clarity, due to certain elements of the Boycott still being unknown – however, it is important to us that we can provide as much detail as possible to students so that you’re up to date with what is going on. We hope the answers to these questions will provide some clarity on what to expect, should the Boycott take place.
- We still await an update from UCU on the outcomes from any discussions that took place, with assurances of further details once certain details have been worked out with University management.
As an SU we will continue to communicate with the University and UCU to ensure that we are up to date with decisions and developments made in relation to the Marking and Assessment Boycott. We will post updates on our social media (Instagram) and our as we have them.
If any students are concerned or worried about the potential impact of the Marking and Assessment Boycott, please do contact our Advice and Support Team, who can provide independent and confidential advice - email@example.com.
SU Officer Team (2022/23)
Alex, Julia, Jura, Blake, Viktor, Elizabeth.