USS Dispute FAQs for taking industrial action short of a strike
The HEC calls upon all the members described below to take part in a comprehensive boycott of all setting and marking, coursework,assignments with effect from Thursday,6 November,2014.
Who is called to take action?
Any members employed by subsidiary university companies, the Medical Research Council, or otherwise not directly employed by the higher education institution at which they are a UCU member are not included in this call to take action.
Boycott of assessment and examinations activity
This action short of a strike does not apply to any member whose designated role consists entirely or substantially of assessment and examinations work. This will usually affect only a small number of specialised administrative staff, for example, a registry examinations officer who centrally administers examinations.
When will the action finish?
What exactly does the boycott include?
It applies to all levels, sub-degree, undergraduate or postgraduate, and to all forms of higher education and professional training, full-time, part-time or distance learning.
As well as final awards at the end of courses, the boycott also covers assessment that contributes to decisions about the suitability of students to continue with their studies (eg at the end of the first year of a degree course) or to undertake particular options or modules (eg where they have prerequisites).
The assessment boycott is not restricted to final examinations, but includes any form of in-course continuous assessment. It will include traditional essay setting and marking, but also setting and assessment of any student work falling within the formal assessment defined above, including, for example, the setting or assessment of projects and dissertations, laboratory and other practical work, performance (eg in music or drama) and supervised practice (eg in teacher education).
Examination of dissertations and theses at postgraduate level, as well as vivas, are included in the action.
What does ‘assessment’ cover?
Assessment, therefore, includes any assessed work on all courses, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, full-time or part-time and whether delivered on campus or by distance learning. It includes all forms of assessed student work, not only formal examinations. Thus, essays, project work, placements, practical work and performance are included, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations and theses, including research degrees.
Members should not:
- set examinations or other assessable student work falling within the above description mark or examine any such work, including projects, dissertations or theses
- provide informal guidance to students with regard to their mark, grade or assessed progress
- process marks or assessments in any way – including those which originate before the beginning of the assessment boycott
- attend or participate in any way in any meetings or parts of meetings in which student work is assessed or examined.
What about the administration associated with student assessment?
But what if my job is almost entirely devoted to the administration of examinations?
What about marks and assessments that were produced before the action started. Should I withhold them?
Is external examining included in the action?
I have a separate contract for my internal examining duties; does that mean that I am exempt from the assessment boycott?
Can we still give students feedback on their progress?
What should I say if I am asked if I am taking part in the boycott?
‘I intend to support the UCU assessment and marking boycott but will not be doing so until x date when I have scheduled work to do which is included in the boycott. I will not be engaged in marking every day after that date. Please note that I would have expected all the work I can currently anticipate and which is covered by the boycott to have been completed by x date.’
As stated above, you should be aware that while the policies of institutions vary considerably, the employer retains a legal right to deduct pay from day one of action so long as they are clear that they intend to do so irrespective of whether you are taking action on each day or not.
Can UCU members who are not currently members of USS take part in the boycott?
Can management take 100% of my salary off me even though I am performing most of my duties?
The law does provide a right for employers to refuse to accept partial performance and to deduct 100% pay should they choose to do so. However, given that for most staff, assessment related work is a small part of their overall duties while lawful this is clearly manifestly unfair. It is therefore no surprise therefore, especially given the likely long term effect on staff relations of behaving so unfairly, that most USS institutions have so far chosen a more proportionate response to the boycott
I am an external examiner at a USS institution. What should I do?
As an external examiner you should be on your guard against any attempts by universities to relax academic standards in order to circumvent the boycott. You should also make clear to staff in the host university that you support the dispute and that they may really any concerns to you about this. The union has produced a fact sheet for external examiners
Are there any exemptions from the boycott?
The boycott often lead to staff having to take very difficult decisions. That is why this sanction is used only very rarely and also why it is effective. In order to be fair on every member, the union is therefore unable to offer any exemptions from the boycott.
Will there be strike pay?
UCU’s national officers have agreed to pay up to a net £75 a day to members affected by punitive deductions once they have had three days (or equivalent) pay deducted. This is a considerable financial commitment and as usual we will seek to prioritise those in greatest financial need. As usual, payment will require proof of deduction.
I am a head of department/programme leader, can I take part in the action?
Yes. You have a crucial role in ensuring the effectiveness of the dispute. The union has produced a fact sheet which sets out what you should do to support the union.
Is the assessment of staff (eg internal CPD programmes) covered by the boycott?
If the member of staff is a ‘student’ for the purposes of the programme then they will be included in the boycott. Most internal CPD programmes would not meet this criteria.
I am a casualised member of staff – should I agree to take on others assessment duties during the boycott?
No. You should refuse to take on the assessment duties of others as described in this FAQ and cite your participation in the UCU industrial action as the reason. Any casualised staff who are victimised for doing this should immediately contact their local branch.
Is formative assessment covered by the boycott?
The distinction between formative and summative assessment can sometimes be difficult to define. The boycott is aimed at all formal student assessment, including the formal setting of assessed work. The assessment boycott is not restricted to final examinations, but includes any form of in-course continuous assessment. It will include traditional essay setting and marking, but also setting and assessment of any student work falling within the formal assessment defined above, including, for example, the setting or assessment of projects and dissertations, laboratory and other practical work, performance (eg in music or drama) and supervised practice (eg in teacher education). General feedback or exercises which are not marked and which cannot be used to enable a student to progress are part of teaching rather than assessment and are not covered by the boycott. In considering whether a piece of formative assessment is covered by the boycott, members should ask themselves whether documentation from the assessment could be used in your absence by a strike breaker to provide a mark or evidence of progress.
Are invigilation duties covered by the boycott?
Yes. These duties are part of the administration of assessment and academic and academic related or other professional staff should refuse to carry them out.
Is a one off performance (eg a degree show) covered by the boycott?
Yes. If you require detailed advice on this please contact Matt Waddup.