Cambridge exams put at risk over strike ballot

Rachel Balmer 3 October 2014

Lecturers at the University of Cambridge and many of Britain’s top universities could boycott the marking of exam papers this year over changes to the current pension scheme.

The University and College Union (UCU) is currently balloting members across 67 UK universities about taking industrial action to oppose the changes.

It is claimed adjustments to the scheme would lead to thousands of pounds a year being stripped off staff pensions.

If union members vote in favour of taking action, a marking boycott would go ahead and exams would be suspended at all 67 affected universities. This includes Cambridge, Oxford and all members of the Russell Group. Furthermore, students would not be set coursework nor receive formal marks or feedback.

Under the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a professor could see a 27% cut to their pension and lifetime losses of over £230,000. It is proposed that the final salary pension scheme would be ended and a £40,000 earnings cap on benefit entitlements would be introduced.

General Secretary of the UCU, Sally Hunt, said in a statement: “We are making it very clear in this ballot that if members back industrial action, and there is no negotiated solution, we will be looking to quickly move to an assessment and exam boycott.”

However, UCU regional officer for the Eastern and Home Counties, Lydia Richards, told the Cambridge News that it was a drastic measure: "This is the hardest thing for our lecturers to do, because they know how much our students rely on it… I haven't talked to a single academic who wants to do it, but these changes have a really serious impact on our pensions."

Earlier in the year, a similar exam marking boycott over the bitter 1% pay increase row was eventually called off after a settlement was reached.[]

Second year student Jocelyn Major sympathised with the academics, commenting “I agree that the pension changes are unfair for lecturers and they have a right to protest,” however she considers that “the impact of the strike action would be huge for students who have worked hard for their grades and it doesn't seem fair to penalise them.”