Staff ‘marking boycott’ begins threatening delays to exam feedback

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Members of the University and College Union (UCU) have resumed an assessment boycott after national talks failed to resolve outstanding issues related to proposed changes to their pension scheme.

The assessment boycott recommenced today (Friday 16th January) and will go on indefinitely, however it is not expected to impact the sitting of exams.

However, Professor Bernie Morley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning & Teaching, has warned students that the action “could see UCU members refusing to set coursework or providing formal marks and feedback”.

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UCU represents over 500 academic and academic-related staff across campus

He went on to say that, “it is regrettable that the trade union has decided to take this action but we are confident that plans already in place will ensure that all exams for both undergraduate and postgraduate students will take place as scheduled.”

The University of Bath Students’ Union is officially supporting the action as a result of an indicative poll conducted in November in which 59% of students voted in favour of the UCU’s dispute.

The vote was attended by 317 students, just under 2% of the student body.

The assessment boycott means that staff taking part will opt out of invigilating exams as well as marking coursework and exams completed.

The boycott is a continuation of a previous action suspended in November after the UCU and Universities UK group (UUK), the higher-education advocacy organisation who proposed the changes, agreed to negotiate the terms of the pension scheme, of which all academic and senior administrative staff are eligible for.

The UUK has argued that the USS as it stands is no longer sustainable, but the UCU, which represents over 500 of the University of Bath’s academic and academic-related staff, claims that staff will “lose thousands of pounds in retirement.”

Micheal Carley, the University of Bath’s UCU branch President told bathimpact that talks had collapsed “because the employers have refused to make concessions to our members’ need for a dignified retirement.”

He went on to say, “Over the last few months, the employers’ case for their proposed changes to the pension scheme has been shown to be utterly spurious. Indeed, at one point they used fake data to justify their proposals. A decent old age for university staff is perfectly affordable and vice-chancellors should not begrudge their staff their dignity.”

A University of Bath spokesperson expressed concern with the move as going “to the heart of the contract of employment for academic and teaching staff involved in student learning and teaching.”

“As this action has the potential to have a serious adverse effect on our students and in turn the reputation of our University, particularly if it continues for several weeks, we are considering the approach to adopt in relation to withholding pay,” he added.

University of Bath UCU members taking part in the previous assessment boycott faced a 25% pay-cut for the duration of the action, however this was revoked after the suspension of the boycott.

Jordan Kenny

SU President Jordan Kenny says the SU will support union members taking part in the assessment boycott

University of Bath Students’ Union President Jordan Kenny said the SU would “support members of UCU who engage in industrial action on the principle that staff teaching students should be highly motivated and fairly rewarded.”

He went on to say that, “Bath SU has met, and will continue to meet with members of UCU to discuss how, in partnership, steps can be made to secure fair rewards for staff.”

The SU has pledged to keep in contact with students worried about the outcome of the action and will be liaising with Academic Representatives to identify issues surrounding the boycott. They have urged concerned students to get in contact with the Advice and Representation Centre.

An SU source told bathimpact that external invigilators are on hand in order to allow for the continuation of exams.

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Benjamin is the former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of bathimpact and covers stories on University of Bath, University of Bath Students' Union, Bath politics and student issues

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