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University employers and union meeting amid marking boycott

14 Jul 2023 3 minute read
UCU picket. Left picture by Peter Byrne. Right picture by UCU Bangor.

University employers are holding talks with the University and College Union (UCU) amid an ongoing marking boycott.

More than 140 universities across the UK have refused to mark exams or assessments since April 20 in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

The UCU says the meeting on Friday is the first with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) since the boycott began.

Ahead of the meeting, the union said the UCEA’s position is “untenable” following the Government’s announcement on Thursday of salary increases for public sector workers of up to 7%.

The UCU says university staff have already rejected the pay award the UCEA “began imposing” in February, and it is demanding improved pay “to deal with the cost-of-living crisis”.

But UCEA chief executive Raj Jethwa said the public sector pay awards are “irrelevant” because it does not mean the higher education (HE) sector “can suddenly afford more”, and that the pay award is “comparable to settlements in the wider economy” and public sector.

The union approached the UCEA seeking fresh talks earlier this month, with the employers’ body saying it is open to discussing a potential process to resolve the dispute.

The UCEA said in June that 2.6% of students – roughly 13,000 of the half a million students due to graduate this year – would be affected by the boycott, and the “vast majority of staff” are working hard to mitigate its impact.


UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “After unprecedented industrial unrest, Rishi Sunak has been forced to honour pay review body recommendations.

“This makes UCEA’s position on pay untenable, when it meets with us today it needs to get realistic. Universities have billions in reserves and can afford to pay staff properly, instead vice-chancellors are choosing to make students and staff suffer.

“UCEA’s refusal to settle this dispute means staff are getting their pay docked, international students are losing visas, and thousands upon thousands of students cannot graduate.

“UCEA needs to make us an improved offer, stop the pay docking and settle the dispute.”


Mr Jethwa said: “Yesterday’s public sector pay announcement is irrelevant because it doesn’t mean that collectively the sector can suddenly afford more for the 2023-24 pay uplift.

“The financial state of the New JNCHES (New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff) HE institutions has not improved since we brought forward the pay round to help staff with cost-of-living pressures.

“Many HE institutions now face steep increases in employer contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and several institutions have confirmed that they have informed staff that financial struggles mean they will need to delay the uplift.

“The 2023-24 pay uplift resulted in a final pay award of between 8% and 5% from August 2023 with almost half of this paid from February, some six months in advance of the usual pay uplift date.

“Despite the financial pressures facing the sector, this pay award is comparable to settlements in the wider economy, including the public sector workers’ pay rises of between 5% and 7%.

“Today’s exploratory talks provide a potential opportunity to find a resolution to the long-running current dispute, in turn bringing an end to the UCU’s marking and assessment boycott. UCEA also welcomes the willingness of the unions to discuss UCEA’s proposal for an independent review of sector affordability.”

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