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Marking boycott threatens graduation

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Image credit: Niklas Rahmel
Image credit: Niklas Rahmel

Lecturers belonging to some unions may refuse to mark students’ coursework and exams over the summer if their pay is not increased, potentially endangering the graduation of leavers.

Universities and their staff have been in an ongoing dispute over pay since last year, with three strikes and three ‘stoppages’ already occurring at Exeter. If the conflict is not resolved by April 28, then members of the University and Colleges Union, Unison and Unite have threatened to begin their marking boycott.

This comes after the unions rejected the 1% pay rise offered to university staff, as they argue that this offer would still equate to a 13% wage cut since October 2008.

The revelations surrounding Vice-Chancellor pay packages increasing by an average of 5.1%, heightened tensions, with top earners already earning more than £400,000 per annum in some instances.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt stated: “I fail to see how any university can claim to have students’ best interests at heart if it is not pushing for talks with the union to resolve this dispute.

“The strong support for our action so far demonstrates how angry staff are at the hypocrisy over pay in our universities. The employers cannot plead poverty when it comes to staff pay and then award enormous rises to a handful at the top”.

Members of UCU have decided to resort to the boycott, after their series of walkouts, beginning on January 23, failed to incite change.

But it seems not all of the students at the University of Exeter agree with their latest strike plans.

Gemma Joyce, a second year Philosophy and Sociology student, said: “I think it’s disgraceful that students are continuously dealing with disruption in teaching because of the strikes.

“It shouldn’t be us who are suffering as a result of squabbles that are out of our control.”

There is a growing concern that if some lecturers refuse to mark coursework and exams this summer, then the degree results of final year students in particular could be in jeopardy.

A spokesperson from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: “Higher education institutions will certainly be disappointed that the UCU is still threatening a marking boycott, as this is action that is once again aimed directly at students’ education.

“Both UCU and higher education institutions are well aware that strike support has dwindled still further in recent weeks, with the overwhelming majority of staff not taking part and giving no wish to disrupt students’ education. It is quite extraordinary for the UCU to be planning yet more action over last year’s pay uplifts with the 2014-5 pay negotiations due start in March.”

Ben Street, the university’s newly elected Vice President for Education, told Exeposé his thought about the potential strike action and the effect it would have on the university.

He said: “Ensuring that staff are happy and properly paid is essential to ensuring that students are receiving a top quality academic experience Exeter.

“Whilst it is seriously unfair that students will potentially take the brunt of these actions, it seems to be reaching a stage where direct strike action that affects the students is the only way for the staff to get their message across. “I also believe that many academics would see this as a last resort and it would only be carried out if all other avenues had been exhausted. I would urge all parties involved to meet prior to these actions to resolve the situation and to prevent any backlash that may affect students.”

If this marking strike goes ahead nationwide, then it will be the first time the UCU has used this tactic since 2006.

Amy Young, News Team 

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