Lecturers’ pay may be docked for
marking boycott

 

Education Editor

Universities throughout the UK have warned they will dock lecturers’ pay in an unprecedented move which threatens to bring the entire higher education system to a standstill.

University employers have made the dramatic move in the wake of a planned lecturers’ boycott of marking this year’s degrees in protest over being offered just a one per cent pay increase.

Employers’ leaders said they were forced to take drastic steps in the wake of the rise in tuition fees to £9,000 a year, because they feared students or parents could take legal action if they failed to try and ensure degrees were marked on time.

However, the University and College Union, the lecturers’ union, which is calling for the marking boycott from 28 April, claimed the move amounted to “little more than bullying and removed any pretence that universities had students’ interests at heart”.

If the marking boycott goes ahead, lecturers taking part will be docked all their pay and then consider themselves “locked out” - and will thus withdraw from lectures as well.

Universities have told the unions they will consider any work done by boycotting lecturers to be voluntary and therefore unpaid.

The union has initiated a marking boycott before, in 2006, when university employers decided to “ride it out”, but an employers’ source said last night that it was now “a different world” in the light of the fees rises. Students paying so much expected the universities to manage things smoothly.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: “This threat is little more than an attempt to bully staff from taking part in industrial action as part of a legitimate grievance against efforts to drive down their pay.”

The union estimates their members’ pay has fallen by 13 per cent in real terms since 2009 and it has taken strike action six times this academic year in protest at the employers’ one per cent pay offer.

The boycott would mean staff refusing to mark students’ work, including coursework essays, portfolios, dissertations, films, works of art etc, or communicate marks to anyone, potentially threatening their ability to graduate this summer.

The dispute has become increasingly bitter as time has gone on, fuelled by revelations that some university vice-chancellors are earning more than £400,000 a year and that those in top universities, such as the Russell Group, pocketed rises of £22,000 on average last year. It led to a warning from Business Secretary Vince Cable in a speech earlier this week to caution them to be moderate in their pay increases.

Ms Hunt added: “You cannot claim to have students’ interests at heart and then escalate the situation by effectively locking staff out of their place of work.

“Nobody wants to see a marking boycott but we are encouraged that the National Union of Students passed a motion of support at their national conference last week. The time has come for the employers to come back to the negotiating table with a serious and fair pay offer.”

The only glimmer of light is that the two sides are due to meet for talks on Tuesday in a bid to solve the dispute before it escalates.

A spokesman for the UCEA, the employers’ organisation, said: “All higher education institutions will have had heavy hearts in deciding how to respond to this potential industrial action that would cause major disruption to students. In the UCU’s own words, this assessment boycott would be ‘potentially impacting on students’ ability to graduate'.

“The responses are unsurprising because HE institutions have long had clear policies not to accept partial performance of duties and would be deducting pay from any staff who chose to take part, precisely in order to limit the impact on student’s education. 

“All parties do of course hope that this potential action will be averted.”

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