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Marking and Assessment Boycott: Bristol students urge University to resolve UCU dispute

Exam venue inside the Wills Memorial Building - University of Bristol

By Milan Perera, News Writer

In an open letter sent to the Senior Leadership Team at the University of Bristol, the students are calling for effective measures to resolve the ongoing dispute with the University and College Union (UCU), highlighting the need for urgent action to ensure the marking is completed in time for graduation.

UCU strike - Charlie Gadd

The letter was addressed to Professor Evelyn Welch, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol and the other members of the Senior Leadership Team.

The letter urges the Senior Leadership Team to ‘make a public request to the organisation which negotiates staff pay, the UCEA, that they resume negotiations with union representatives from the UCU.’

The boycott, which began on April 20, 2023, will see UCU members and University of Bristol staff not undertake any marking and assessment duties until the University meets the demands of the UCU on pay, pensions and work load.

The UCU has been on strikes over a pay rise in line with inflation, improvements to pensions after recent cuts, an end to casualised contracts and a 35 hour working week.

Ongoing MAB has been a concern for many final year students - University of Bristol

The University has already laid out plans to deduct pay for the UCU members that involve in the industrial action. The University’s proposed 50 per cent pay deductions have been condemned by UCU.

UCU Branch President Jamie Melrose points out:

‘Instead of further punishing its staff after years of pay cuts, excessive workloads, and enforced precarious contracts, University management should be representing its staff by securing them a decent pay deal.’

The open letter further requests the University authorities to confirm that the ‘work will be marked in time for graduation, or in time to progress to the next year of study' and ‘the marking will be undertaken by the qualified staff who set the assessments and not by external providers.’

Not all students have been affected by the Marking and Assessment Boycott as some faculties continue to function as usual in terms of marking.

Charlie Gairsford, a final year Politics and International Relations student who penned the open letter spoke exclusively to Epigram regarding the circumstances that led to it:

'I’ve been told by my dissertation supervisor that my dissertation will not be marked until the UCEA reach ask agreement with the UCU over pay. This is extremely disappointing. I’ve spent 9 months working on my dissertation putting a lot of effort into it and to be told it won’t be marked, I hold the university fully accountable for this, they should pay my lecturers more at a fair rate. When I 'graduate' in August I have no idea what my degree will be based off as talks between the UCEA and UCU have broken down. I want my degree to be based on all my hard work this year and nothing else.'

He further pointed out that:

'Graduating without my 3rd year work being taken into account is insulting and not what I paid for. I’ll leave Bristol with almost 45k in debt with no ‘real’ degree to show for it. My job prospects are severely hampered. I call on the UCEA to come to an agreement with the UCU to end this madness!'

Final year Politics and International Relations student Charlie Gaisford started a petition - Charlie Gaisford

In the wake of the Marking and Assessment Boycott, a University of Bristol spokesperson stated:

'We are very sorry about the uncertainty and frustration the marking and assessment boycott is causing our students and want to offer assurance that our priority is to support them through this challenging period.

'We expect that most students’ academic outcomes will not be affected but we have put in place contingency plans to help examination boards make sound and robust decisions that will maintain the quality and high standards associated with a Bristol degree. Graduations will be taking place this summer and decisions will be made about progression for continuing students.

'This may mean some final year students graduate with their final result pending, where they have passed but there is not enough evidence to classify their degree.

'This action is part of a long-running national dispute led by the University and College Union [UCU] affecting more than 100 universities with multiple demands on pay, pension and working conditions. While we are working with our local unions here at Bristol, the sector needs to find affordable solutions and better ways of resolving this ongoing dispute nationally.

'Personal tutors and school offices are here to offer support and students will be kept up to date with any developments.'