We recognise that many staff at the University are now faced with a difficult personal decision. As a result of various ballots, we are in a position where UCU, nationally, has called for members to take part in a continuous Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) across 145 HEIs. The timing of the MAB could significantly affect the progress of many of our students and have a really significant impact on those expecting to graduate this year. Many staff will want to see these successes, a result of the education they have delivered, so taking action which can impede this is clearly a difficult choice.
For those staff whose role relates to marking and assessment, and this includes both academic and professional services staff, taking part in an MAB will mean that those staff will not be fulfilling a very important element of their job description. This is known as 'partial performance'. We do not accept partial performance and there is considerable legal precedent which says that employers are within their rights to withhold pay in such circumstances. The aim is for any such withholding to be proportional to the impact of the partial performance, not a punitive measure. Because this is a national issue, and the action is nationally led by UCU, we recognise that we need to be part of the national picture in responding to this situation. The national (UCEA) advice is that we should, ideally, be withholding 100% of salary for this partial performance.
Given the good local relations we have built with staff, despite a series of periods of industrial action, and the position of this University, we do not feel that it would be proportionate to deduct 100%, as many other Universities are doing, at this stage. However, we do need to recognise that the inability of students to progress, or indeed graduate because they have not had their work marked, and feedback given, is of extremely significant impact to them. Because of this scale of impact, we, like many other Universities are doing, assess that using 50% deductions as a benchmark (the minimum recommended) is proportionate to the level of impact and disruption that this particular partial performance will cause.
The formal notice that we received from UCU, nationally, identifies that the MAB would start from 20 April 2023. The University has agreed with UCU locally, that it will not start deducting for partial performance until after 2 May 2023.
There are key dates to consider:
The information date which is the date on which anyone intending to take part in the MAB informs their Head of Department that they are taking part;
The effective date which is the date on which the marking or assessment activity is expected to start. This would be, for example, the date an exam script is provided to the individual for marking, the date of a PGR viva etc.
While reserving the right to change this, if circumstances change, our initial approach is that:
We expect staff to prioritise marking and assessment activities, giving highest priority to ensuring that final year students receive the education and assessments necessary to graduate, and that other students receive the education required to progress with their courses to the next academic year;
Staff have a responsibility to respond truthfully, if asked, if they are taking part in industrial action and to be clear which activities (within the scope of the MAB) they are not undertaking, and the dates they participate in the MAB;
Ideally staff will declare this to the HoD before they start the MAB and we would encourage this;
If the information date is before close of play on 9 May 2023, the deduction from salary will be 40%. This deduction will be made continually from the effective date, withheld from each month’s pay until the MAB comes to an end;
If the information date is after 9 May 2023, the deduction from salary will be 60%. This deduction will be made continually from the effective date, withheld from each month’s pay until the MAB comes to an end.
We very much hope that progress will continue to be made with discussions at national level which will bring an end to this dispute. This situation is damaging to students, to staff and to the sector and we will continue to press for movement which will achieve national level agreement. This action short of a strike (ASOS) is based on a rejection of the proposals on pay and other terms and conditions (known by UCU as the ‘Four Fights’). As well as making our own proposals, as a University we are happy to consider national proposals on any, or all of those issues if it will help achieve a resolution.
Notes of clarification:
We made the change, some years ago, to calculate deductions for industrial action based on 1/365 of annual salary (rather than 1/260, which was the previous assumption based on working days). As such, we will use 1/365 of annual salary as the multiplier for every calendar day that the member of staff is taking part in the MAB (but with an exception for bank holidays and authorised leave)
The MAB can come to end because of one or more of the following:
- the member of staff chooses to do the assigned marking;
- UCU call off the MAB;
- the dispute is ended; or
- the industrial action mandate comes to an end.
We appreciate that there may be a 'backstop date' after which there is little point in expecting a member of staff to continue with the marking task, however at this stage we are hopeful that the dispute will be resolved before any such date is reached. We will review frequently and decide in due course whether such a 'backstop' needs to be introduced, dependant on the timing of the assessment period.