Graduations in the United Kingdom this summer are at risk of being delayed due to the University and College Union (UCU) announcing a marking boycott in response to unresolved pay and working conditions disputes. With the academic futures of numerous students hanging in the balance, can a resolution be reached in time?

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UK Graduations at Risk as University Staff Boycott Exam Marking Amid Pay Dispute

Key Takeways:

  • UCU boycotts exam marking over unresolved pay and working conditions disputes, jeopardizing UK graduations this summer.
  • Marking boycott could delay exam results and coursework marks, forcing universities to consider awarding degrees using previous marks.
  • UCU’s higher education branch to discuss further actions, including potential strike action, as employers express disappointment over the rejection of the pay offer.

UCU Rejects Offer on Pay and Working Conditions, Launches Boycott

The UCU, representing university staff, has decided to proceed with industrial action after its members rejected an offer on pay and working conditions. This development comes despite the resolution of a long-running pension dispute, with 85% of members voting to accept a deal that improved retirement benefits. However, the union’s members voted against the pay and working conditions offer, leading to the initiation of the marking boycott on Thursday. Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, is urging employers to return to negotiations to prevent disruptions affecting graduations at 145 UK universities.

Students Face Potential Delays in Graduation

The marking boycott could result in delayed exam results and coursework marks for students, possibly preventing some from graduating before the end of the academic year. Universities may have to award degrees using previous marks as an alternative to bypass this issue. It’s worth noting that UCU members went on strike for three days last month, and the union’s strike mandate has been renewed for another six months, raising concerns about further disruptions in the education sector.

Further Steps and Employer Reactions: Possibility of Strikes

A special meeting of the UCU’s higher education branch will be held this week to discuss additional measures regarding pay, which may include further strike action. Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, expressed disappointment but was unsurprised by the rejection of the pay offer. He pointed out that the UCU had advised members to vote against it. Jethwa also highlighted that the union’s membership appeared divided over the deal, with only a third of members voting to reject the offer during the consultative ballot.

A Life-Changing Victory in Pensions Dispute Overshadowed by New Conflict

While the end of the pension dispute is seen as a life-changing victory for the union, the ongoing pay and working conditions conflict now takes center stage. Grady praised the resolution of the pension dispute, stating that UCU members have proven that “it can be done” and that they have taken a “giant step towards a historic victory that will change lives.” The pension deal aims to reverse significant cuts to retirement income imposed through the universities superannuation scheme last year, which UCU claimed would reduce average benefits by 35%.

The Bottom Line

The University and College Union’s decision to boycott exam marking over unresolved pay and working conditions disputes puts UK graduations this summer at risk of delays. The union is urging employers to return to negotiations to minimize disruptions to students’ academic progress. Despite the resolution of the pensions dispute, further industrial action, such as strikes, may be on the horizon if the pay and working conditions issue remains unresolved, potentially affecting the education sector for months to come.

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