University lecturers plan marking strike over pension changes that 'could cost thousands'

Essay and exam marking strike starts in November

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The Independent Online

University lecturers will start a boycott of marking students’ essays from next week in protest at a squeeze in their pensions.

The boycott will mean members of the University and College Union will refuse to set coursework, or give formal marks for essays or feedback on students’ work. The action will also mean that exams go unmarked.

The protest, which starts on 6 November, will take place at 69 universities, all members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, mainly the older establishments, including Oxford and Cambridge.

The bitter row over pensions comes as lecturers’ leaders claim planned changes to the scheme - including abandoning pensions based on final salaries - will cost their members thousands of pounds after retirement.

The unions say some universities have misgivings over the way the pension proposals have been devised.

“We are setting plans for an assessment boycott in place because USS members have made it clear they are unconvinced by the employers’ arguments,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU.

“We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke and that is simply not acceptable. We hope the employers will come back to the table for genuine negotiations aimed at resolving the enormous gap between our two positions.”

Universities UK, the body which represents vice chancellors, said it was “disappointed” with the union’s “damaging course of industrial action aimed directly at disrupting students’ education”.

It said the pension scheme was £8bn short of meeting its financial requirements and a recovery plan was “unavoidable”.

It also implied lecturers could either be suspended or lose pay if they carried out their marking boycott, adding: “Universities take the risk of disruption to students arising from any potential industrial action very seriously and would take all reasonable steps to mitigate impact on students. Universities would not be abler to accept partial performance from staff.”

A ballot of UCU members revealed a 78 per cent vote in favour of industrial action. Negotiations between the two sides are due to resume on 7 November.