Students relieved as marking boycott is called off at the last minute

Jocelyn Major 5 May 2014

To the relief of many finalists, the University and College Union (UCU) announced today that they have cancelled a marking boycott planned to start tomorrow which could have had serious implications and caused worrying delays for students graduating this summer.

The start date of the boycott had already been delayed from 28 April to 6 May and would have caused huge problems for students intending to graduate this year whose exam papers would not have been marked until the stand-off was resolved.

The UCU previously turned down a 1% pay increase, but have now accepted a 2% pay increase and cancelled the strike, giving confirmation that the pay dispute is over.

In the official UCU statement, general secretary Sally Hunt said: “UCU members have made it overwhelmingly clear that they wish to accept the 2% pay offer and call off the proposed marking boycott. We shall be informing universities of their decision and that the marking boycott is off. My thanks go to UCU members for their support in this dispute.”

The decision to accept the pay increase and end the strike was almost unanimous, with 83.7% of members voting in favour of accepting the pay increase. However, the voter turnout was notably low with only 52.6% of members turning out to vote.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has also issued a statement saying it is “pleased that the employers’ ‘full and final’ pay offer of 2 per cent for 2014-15 has been accepted by the vast majority of UCU members.

“Students and the sector more broadly will be relieved that the planned assessment boycott has now been called off.”

Yet some have expressed disappointment that the UCU has given in to a pay rise of only 2% when their wages have fallen by 13% over the last four years.

Cambridge Defend Education stated: "The offer UCU have accepted from UCEA of a 2% pay increase for 2014-15 does nothing to address the previous years of chronic underpayment staff have been suffering from, nor does it rule out a future real-terms pay cut, as it is still below inflation. It demonstrates the continued reluctance of those at the top to grant staff the fair pay they deserve, and is symptomatic of a basic disrespect towards those who provide our education."

Speaking to the The Cambridge Student a spokesman for Cambridge UCU explained: "Whilst the Cambridge UCU is not wildly enthusiastic about the 2% offer, which does not offset the real-terms pay-cut that our members have suffered due to below-inflation settlements over the past few years, we are pleased that it represents a doubling of the original 1% offer, and that it is accepted that University employees deserved more than the 1% "ceiling" on public sector pay offers." 

Yet she added, "It is very pleasing to be able to call off the marking boycott, for such boycotts regrettably result in disruption for the innocent. We particularly appreciate the support and understanding that CUSU has shown in the run-up to the proposed boycott".

Fiona Woolston, a finalist a Trinity Hall, told The Cambridge Student: “When the vice-chancellor of the university receives a pay rise of £20,000 yet university staff pay remains stagnant there is clearly something amiss. As students we need to look beyond our own interests; if we do not support our teachers now and help end this culture of obscene disproportionality it will only continue and intensify.”

Rianna, a second year English student, agreed describing her “acute awareness” that in a few years she would be “in the working world” and thus sympathised with the UCU strikes, but she added that she was “very relieved” that finalists wouldn’t be adversely affected by the boycott.