Marking boycott set to affect students at two North East universities

The universities of Newcastle and Durham are set to stage a marking boycott over pensions

Owen Humphreys/PA Wire A Newcastle University building
A Newcastle University building

Academics at two North East universities are set to stage a marking boycott amid a bitter row over pensions, it has been announced.

The action will start at the universities of Newcastle and Durham on Thursday, November 6, the University and College Union (UCU) said, and continue until the dispute is resolved.

It will mean that students will not be set coursework, or receive formal marks and feedback on work. It will also bring any planned exams to a halt.

Universities UK (UUK) said it was disappointed that the UCU was pursing a “damaging” course of action that would directly impact on students.

The announcement of an assessment boycott at institutions across the UK comes the week after the UCU announced that its members had backed industrial action in the row over pensions.

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of those who voted in the recent ballot supported strikes, while 87 per cent were in favour of action short of walkouts, which includes the assessment boycott.

The union balloted members who are in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) at 69 institutions. Turnout for the ballot was 45 per cent.

The dispute focuses on changes to the USS, which are understood to have been prompted by an expected deficit in the pension scheme.

UCU claims that the process used to work out the deficit is too simplistic and does not take into account the strengths of the scheme.

But UUK said that proposals offer the best possible deal under the terms that the trustees of the USS have set.

Talks were held between the union and employers’ representatives last week, but UCU insisted that these failed to provide them with a guarantee that employers were making an effort to protect the pensions of their members who are in the USS.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The employers failed to convince us of the need for their dramatic changes or the reasons behind the methodology for its deficit reduction plan. Their proposals remain full of holes and the information they are apparently relying on to back them up keeps being exposed as misleading.

“We are setting plans for an assessment boycott in place because USS members have made it clear they are unconvinced by the employers’ arguments as well. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke and that is simply not acceptable. We hope the employers will come back to the table for genuine negotiations aimed at resolving the enormous gap between our two positions.”

A UUK spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the UCU has decided to pursue a damaging course of industrial action aimed directly at disrupting students’ education.

“Taking industrial action will not make the substantial scheme deficit and the risks to the future viability of the scheme go away.

“The employers’ proposals for reform offer the best possible deal for employees within the constraints that the USS Trustees have set. USS falls under the remit of the Pensions Regulator. It has to meet certain minimum levels of funding, a test which it currently fails to the tune of at least £8 billion.

“It is unavoidable that a recovery plan has to be agreed that would remove the deficit over a reasonable period.”


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