After another wave of strike action, the University and College Union’s (UCU) next step is a potential boycott of marking. Should this take place, it could leave third-year students unable to graduate.
The UCU have begun to ballot staff to take further industrial action over cuts to pensions and working conditions, stating that the ballots “pave the way for action to continue throughout the remainder of 2022”. The ballot is set to run until Friday, April 8.
Should the ballot prove successful, action short of strike could be seen next term. This would include a marking and assessment boycott beginning next term, which would prevent hundreds of thousands of students from graduating across the country.
The marking boycott would follow a series of strike actions that have taken place since December, the next step in a long line of protest taken by the UCU against the Pensions dispute and the Four Fights dispute.
After being told about this next step in industrial action, one third year history student said, “from what I heard in my last class in my dissertation module they said if the strikes don’t go as planned a marking strike is possible and would be the next step”.
Students were also told to “try not to think of that right now and focus on writing [their] dissertations”.
Third year history student Alfie Wilson commented, “I’m in the fortunate position where my dissertation supervisor doesn’t strike, but not are like this.”
“It’s particularly odd given that on Wednesday (two days after this dissertation session where apparently marking boycott plans were revealed), we received an email confirming our graduation date, and that robes will be free.”
“Despite supporting strike action in previous years, I don’t support the rounds of strike action this year. The most important reason being that (to my knowledge) this is the first set of strikes the KCLSU hasn’t supported why is our union less important than theirs is?”
Student awareness and reaction to the potential marking boycott has been mixed. In a poll carried out by Roar, 77% of those who responded stated that they had not been made aware of the potential marking boycott. With regards to their feelings, one student said they felt “awful especially since it hasn’t been communicated to us by the uni yet.”
Another respondent replied that “[their] professor, the head of the UCU at KCL, literally looked us in the eyes and said, ‘there’s a good chance you may not graduate this year'”.
Not only internal examiners are protesting. Multiple external examiners for a range of institutions, including Kingâ€™s, are resigning out of support for UCU members and in protest against UUK.
With regards to the re-balloting of UCU members, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: â€œHuge numbers of university staff will again vote to take action in industrial ballots across the UK. Either vice chancellors withdraw their devastating cuts to pensions and listen to reasonable staff demands for better pay and working conditions, or they face further disruption.
â€œMany campuses have already seen up to 13 days of strike action so far this academic year, and they face another five day long walkout, which will begin next week. Successful reballots could see this action extended throughout the rest of the calendar year and include a marking and assessment boycott. This could stop universities being able to award degrees and bring the sector to a standstill.
“Universities generate income of tens of billions each year and sit on huge reserves. Students and staff know very well that vice chancellors can afford to meet staff demands.”
Roar has reached out to the KCL UCU for further comment. We will continue to update you as the situation develops.