A University and College Union (UCU) conference has voted to begin a marking and assessment boycott at 41 universities – and take a 10-day strike at 39 universities – over pay and conditions.
The conference follows a disaggregated national industrial action ballot at 146 universities earlier this month. Delegates from more than a hundred branches and committees were invited to decide what action to take.
UCU members at 63 universities went on strike over pay and conditions in February and March. Following those strikes, a ballot held in early April to repeat strike action within six months achieved a lower result. The union will now decide when to take the strikes at these 39 institutions.
The vote on action short of a strike (Asos), such as a boycott of marking and assessments, won support at 41 universities. The union warned the decision could prevent students from receiving their grades or graduating.
The strike and marking boycott can begin in the next six months.
A separate conference will decide what action to take over a separate re-ballot of UCU branches on the next steps in the dispute over the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
This is a cynical attempt to squeeze a diminishing mandate to disrupt students’ education in HE institutions
– Raj Jethwa, Ucea
Ahead of the special conference, UCU general secretary Jo Grady had implored delegates to withhold from industrial action to enable the union to “build now for more effective future disputes”. The plea appears to have fallen on deaf ears. After the conference motion, Grady said the decision to “escalate [the industrial action]…reflects [members’] justifiable anger at vice-chancellors”.
Despite her preference not to continue strikes, Grady said: “The union’s full weight is behind every member who is taking this action on behalf of all university staff and students, which is the only way to secure the long term future of the sector.”
Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea), which represents universities in the negotiations over pay and conditions, said the UCU conference decision was “cynical”.
Jethwa said UCU “activists…are pushing a small number of branches into action, which will not affect the majority.”
“While the HE institutions being targeted will,” he continued, “have longstanding plans in place to minimise any disruption to their students’ teaching and learning, this is a cynical attempt to squeeze a diminishing mandate to disrupt students’ education in HE institutions other than their own.”