UK

‘Still significant ground to be covered’ in talks on university marking boycott

Talks between university employers and the University and College Union (UCU) will continue but there is “still significant ground to be covered” amid the ongoing marking boycott, both sides have said (Alamy/PA)
Talks between university employers and the University and College Union (UCU) will continue but there is “still significant ground to be covered” amid the ongoing marking boycott, both sides have said (Alamy/PA)

Talks between university employers and the University and College Union (UCU) will continue but there is “still significant ground to be covered” amid the ongoing marking boycott, both sides have said.

Members of the UCU at 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 and Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) held what were characterised as “urgent” talks on Friday, the first such meeting since the boycott began.

The two sides released a joint statement saying: “Today’s exploratory talks between UCEA, UCU and the other joint unions’ side secretary were constructive, although there is still significant ground to be covered.

“We have explored obstacles to resuming negotiations and bringing an end to the marking and assessment boycott, with both sides recognising the complexity of the issues.

“Both sides welcomed the positive tone of the discussion and have identified dates for further urgent talks.

“Further discussion will also take place with the joint HE (higher education) trade unions to consider the scope and remit of a review of sector finances.”

The UCEA previously said it is willing to support an independent exercise to establish the “factual position” on the sector’s finances, following differing views over what level of pay the universities can afford.

The union approached the UCEA seeking fresh talks earlier this month.

Ahead of the meeting, the UCU said the UCEA’s position not to offer improvements was “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 UCEA said in June that 2.6% of students – roughly 13,000 of the 500,000 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.