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‘This harms students, not the institution’: Students express concerns over marking boycott

UCU members have been docked 50% pay for each day of the boycott

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Aberdeen UCU Twitter

For the last week, members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) have engaged in a marking and assessment boycott, refusing to mark or submit any summative assignments, including dissertations, exams, and other forms of assessment.

The boycott is the latest escalation of national dispute over pay and pensions between UCU, which represents 70,000 academic staff; and employers at universities around the UK.

Speaking to The Gaudie, a number of students have described feelings of anxiety and anger over the boycott, fearing the detrimental effects it will have on final year students awaiting dissertation results. 

A 4th Year English Lit student told The Gaudie

‘It’s not our fault they don’t get paid enough. The majority of students support their reasoning, including me, but not marking final year dissertations is a joke. What are we paying for?’

Likewise, a 4th Year DHPA student commented: ‘I've been very supportive of all the UCU industrial action, but I feel the impact this will have on final year students and international students is just too high for me to support this measure. I empathise with the struggles of UCU staff at the university, but this harms students not the institution.’

A 4th Year Politics and IR student added: ‘I have had sympathy and support for the lecturers for striking over pay and pensions for every year of my 4 year degree, but boycotting marking assessments during the last term of our undergraduate degree when we need our grades to graduate and process admissions for graduate school makes my blood boil…’ 

Students have also expressed concerns over the effect the strikes may have on international students, some of whom rely on timely marking to pay off loans or maintain their right to stay in the UK.

When asked whether they support the boycott, one student commented: ‘Not at all, students pay huge sums of money including English and International students to get an excellent education. This is a step too far by the union and students' interests are clearly now behind lecturers’ interests which is wrong. This is also causing a lot of unnecessary mental stress for students like myself who have exams in May.’

Another student, who said they supported strike action in general, shared how the boycott would affect them personally. They said: ‘ … taking action that directly impacts students in a way that feels almost targeted doesn't get my support and I fail to see how it would be the most useful course of action for UCU either. In addition to visas, some international students also need grades in time for bursaries and student loans (e.g. I personally would face debt collection measures for the student loans of the entire year if I couldn't submit my grades and progress reports in time)...’

Aberdeen UCU told The Gaudie that their members were ‘truly dismayed’ that a marking boycott was needed, placing the blame on the University and UCEA (employers’ bargaining agency) for failing to provide a ‘reasonable solution’ to end the dispute. 

‘Academics are scholars and educators first, and not assessors,’ a statement read. ‘Our primary job is to make sure that our students have the best preparation for whatever they face be they exams, essays, or their work after University.

'If assessments are critical to the functioning of the University then it is up to the University managers to realise that they have to invest in this activity.'

In an email to students, Vice-Principal for Education Ruth Taylor shared that most UoA students would not be affected by the boycott. She said: '... Not all staff belong to UCU and… many students will not be affected. You should continue to study and prepare for your exams or other assessments that are scheduled according to the published deadlines.'

'Our priority is to ensure you receive your marks and feedback and that you progress to the next stage of study or graduate as expected,' Taylor continued. 'We are doing all we can to make that happen.'

However, while the University's message to students was decidedly upbeat, members of staff received a less positive email from senior management.

Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker told staff that those engaged in the boycott had breached their contract. He said:

'Whilst we accept that UCU members are legally entitled to participate in the action, we are concerned at the potentially severe impact that a marking and assessment boycott may have on our students.'

Leydecker continued, informing staff that those engaged in the boycott would be docked 50% of their pay until marking resumed. He commented: 'The University has decided that pay will be deducted from those participating in the marking and assessment boycott at the rate of 50%, whilst reserving the right to deduct pay based on 100%. This is in recognition of the severity of the impact of a marking and assessment boycott on students.'

Responding to the decision in an email circulated among members, UCU Aberdeen blasted the pay cut, labelling it as 'a punitive measure that is out of line with many in the sector.'


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