Education & Family

Marking boycott will hit students at 69 UK universities

Students in lecture
Image caption The marking boycott could affect students at some 69 universities

Hundreds of thousands of students are likely to be affected by a marking boycott by academics angry at proposed changes to their pensions.

The University and College Union says the action, involving members at 69 UK universities, will start on 6 November.

It will halt any planned exams and stop students from receiving coursework, formal marks or feedback.

Universities UK, which represents the institutions, was "disappointed" at "a damaging course of industrial action".

Talks between the two sides are scheduled for the day after the boycott starts, although the union said it was willing to meet sooner.


The row centres on attempts by Universities UK to reform the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The organisation said the changes were needed because the scheme was in deficit.

But the union disputed the calculations and said the plans had been presented to members as a "fait accompli".

It said it announced the boycott after talks last week failed to provide a guarantee of "any effort to protect the pensions" of USS members.

In particular the union said it was angry at proposals to end the final-salary element of the scheme, which it claimed would cost members thousands of pounds in retirement.

Pensions would be calculated instead according to "career-average" earnings, which would apply "only up to a salary threshold of £50,000", the union said.

For academics earning more than £50,000, the employers' pension contribution will be only 12%, "which shifts the risk to scheme members and would rely on successful investments", it argued.

'Not acceptable'

Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, said she was not convinced of the need for "dramatic changes".

The proposals were "full of holes" and evidence suggesting they would work "keeps being exposed as misleading", she added.

"We hope the employers will come back to the table for genuine negotiations aimed at resolving the enormous gap between our two positions."

A Universities UK spokesman said there was disappointment about such a "damaging course of industrial action, aimed directly at disrupting students' education".

The boycott would eliminate neither "the substantial scheme deficit" nor "the risks to the future viability of the scheme", he added.

"The employers' proposals for reform offer the best possible deal for employees within the constraints that the USS Trustees have set."

The scheme "has to meet certain minimum levels of funding, a test which it currently fails, to the tune of at least £8bn", he said.

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

The spokesman added that universities "take the risk of disruption to students arising from any potential industrial action very seriously and would take all reasonable steps to mitigate impact on students."

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