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UCU votes to end marking and assessments boycott

The UCU has ended its marking boycott, with 60% of members voting in favour of the decision. Markers have been instructed to resume “working normally” on examinations that have been left unmarked from the boycott. The UCU leadership, however, advised markers to contact their UCU branch if they are given “inappropriate or unreasonable instruction to speed up marking and assessment in order to ‘beat’ the marking and assessment boycott.” 

The UCU has confirmed that, although the boycott is being suspended, this is not the end of its industrial action. It indicated that from Monday, 25 September, to Friday, 29 September, lecturers at 136 universities across the UK will go on strike. Since Oxford’s Michaelmas term begins on 8 October, the lecturer strike is not expected to affect Oxford students. 

The end of the boycott comes at a time when many Oxford students have not received degree classifications due to missing marks—according to a Freedom of Information Request made by Cherwell, over 400 Oxford students have, as of 22 August, been provisionally given unclassified degrees. While markers will resume working on marking papers for these students, it is unclear how soon the marking will be complete and a degree classification conferred. Despite these uncertainties, the University has made it clear that all assessments will be marked.

In a social media announcement, the UCU indicated that the Higher Education Committee (HEC) has also voted to launch another national ballot on this year’s pay offer. The following reason was given: “Only by renewing our mandate with another massive YES vote can we force our employers to make the type of pay + conditions offer that members deserve.” 

The UCU continued, reiterating that “the fight is not over,” and that “we will not give up until we have delivered the deal that addresses years of pay cuts, unbearable workloads, rampant casualisation and unacceptable pay inequalities.”

The decision to end the boycott was not without dissent. One university lecturer replied to the social media announcement by tweeting, “You have absolutely betrayed your MABbing members if you’ve decided the call-off is effective immediately, as opposed to when the mandate was due to end on 30/9 as we were reasonably preparing for. How am I supposed to mark over a hundred papers while preparing for the new term?” 

The Student Union told Cherwell: “From the perspective of affected students, the end of the MAB signals relief and the return of their long-awaited grades. Despite this, we also recognise that this end sacrifices industrial action that we, as a Student Union have and will remain in full support of. Not only are we democratically mandated to support UCU industrial action, but we are institutionally built upon values that promote causes that are intended to improve the educational experience of students.

“By improving staff pay and working conditions, current and future students will find themselves in a better educational environment- which for many, will one day be their own working environment.”

The University told Cherwell: “While recognising the right of our colleagues to take industrial action, we regret the impact the boycott has had on some students. We are working to ensure that any outstanding marking is undertaken and we are working with colleagues across the University to put the necessary processes in place to deliver this in a timely way.”

This article was updated to reflect comment from the Student Union at 14:14 8th September 2023 and the University at 10:24 13th September 2023.

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