Earlier this month, the University and College Union (UCU) announced plans for another round of strike action to start on Monday 23rd May over pay and working conditions. In an unprecedented move, this was to include a marking and assessment boycott, potentially affecting many students including those wishing to graduate in the coming months. However, this action has now been cancelled and students are advised to “work on the basis that [their] studies will continue as normal”.
This news comes as a relief to many, as one undergraduate student expressed to The Student:
“I’m really glad it’s been cancelled because it means I’m going to get results on assessments I’ve worked so hard towards.”
In an email to students sent on Wednesday 18th May, Vice-Principal Colm Harmon initially informed about the UCU’s plans for further industrial action, and reassured students that the University’s “priority is to minimise disruption to you throughout this period”.
The email further stated: “We have robust measures in place to reduce impact on students and this includes plans to ensure you are not disadvantaged in your assessment or exam outcomes as a direct result of industrial action.”
There was some confusion about what specifically this would mean, as one 4th year undergraduate told to The Student:
“As a fourth year student who is worried about the impact these strikes will have on the marking of their dissertation and final essays, I found professor Harmon’s email to be incredibly vague and not reassuring. The uni should outline specifically what won’t be marked and how overall grades/degree classifications will be effected.”
When seeking clarification on what the University’s concrete plans were for dealing with a marking boycott, the University told The Student on Thursday 19th:
“That’s all we can say at the moment because the UCU hasn’t confirmed the format of their action as yet.”
Merely 24 hours later, the University announced that they have been notified that the union will not be calling on its members to participate in the marking and assessment boycott.
In a statement on the UCU website, general secretary Jo Grady explains how this decision was made:
“Last week UCU’s higher education committee (HEC) met to consider next steps in the USS and Four Fights disputes, including feedback from branches with a mandate about the marking and assessment boycott and 10 days of strike action voted for by our April sector conferences.
“Unfortunately the HEC was deadlocked, with no agreement on how to proceed. It has therefore fallen to the HE officers to use their delegated powers to consider and act on branches’ feedback.
“Following further consultation and intensive discussions with branches, the officers agreed yesterday to honour each branch’s stated preference as to whether to proceed with the marking boycott from Monday 23 May as scheduled, or withdraw the boycott for the time being (while continuing other forms of action short of a strike). “
The University of Edinburgh is listed as not participating in the marking and assessment boycott, although 13 other higher education institutions are.
The UCU further explained that “the officers have also agreed–in response to overwhelming feedback from branches–not to call the 10 days of strike action, except in branches that specifically request to take them.”
A spokesperson from the Edinburgh branch of UCU told The Student:
“It’s important to stress that the boycott at Edinburgh has only been paused, not cancelled. We are at a point in the calendar when there is little to boycott, so members took a view that this was not a viable time to begin this action.
“Although we will not be boycotting immediately, all other aspects of Action Short of Strike resume on Monday 23rd May, and members commitment to both disputes remains undiminished.
“We again call on the University of Edinburgh to use its weight and influence in the sector, and specifically within both UCEA and UUK, to find a just and sustainable resolution to both disputes.
“If there is no movement from the employers, there is a strong possibility of further strike action.
“Higher Education cannot be delivered on the cheap, with overwork, precarious employment, pay erosion, pay inequality and robbing us of security in retirement.
“Staff and students deserve so much better.”
Image courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn via Flickr