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UCU marking and assessment boycott

Update on the UCU marking and assessment boycott

Published: Tuesday 12 September 2023

Marking all finalists’ work and getting final degrees classified has always been our top priority and we have taken additional measures to ensure we get marks to as many students as possible as quickly as possible. The vast majority of our students now have their degrees or a guaranteed interim award. The impact of the marking and assessment boycott (MAB) is limited to few departments.

The end of the MAB is welcome news for our whole community. We have written to staff to ask those who were participating in the MAB to complete all outstanding marking as a matter of the highest priority.

Today (Tuesday 12 September) we have written to final year and continuing students to inform them by when they will receive their marks and, for final year students, their degree awards.

We continue to offer individual support to final year students, including liaising directly with employers and other educational institutions so they are able to progress to the next stage of their lives.

We are very aware of workload implications for colleagues involved in marking students’ work and have issued further guidance on priorities and timelines.

Statement from Durham University on finalist results and the UCU marking and assessment boycott

Published: Tuesday 29 August 2023

“Marking continues to be our top priority. We have been working hard to get final year students all their marks as soon as we can. The vast majority of students now have their degrees or a guaranteed interim award.

“Today (Tuesday 29 August) we have written to those final year students who are still awaiting some marks to update them on progress.

“For some, we are now able to provide a guaranteed interim award. For others, some results are now available but we cannot yet provide a final classification or guaranteed interim award. For others, there has been no change in results status.

“As a recognition of the difficult position some of our students face as a result of the marking and assessment boycott, those who are without a final degree classification or guaranteed interim award will receive from us a goodwill payment, of £500. Those who are to receive this will be informed directly.

“The marking and assessment boycott currently runs until September 30. We will ask staff to prioritise marking and consider marks and award degrees as soon as possible after that date.

“We continue to support our students, including liaising with employers and postgraduate study providers.”

Statement from Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Durham University

Published: Monday 10 July 2023

On Monday 10 July, 2023, the Vice-Chancellor wrote to all Durham University staff with an update on Industrial Action.

The full text of that message is available here.

The following is a summary of key points:

  • UCEA (University and Colleges Employers Association) and UCU (University and College Union) have agreed to meet to discuss the current industrial action and possibilities for moving forward.
  • I and the University Executive Committee see this as a very welcome development. It is something we have been pressing for for some weeks. We need to end the stalemate and find a way forward that works for all parties.
  • While 80% of our final year students have an interim or full degree, a significant minority do not. I would ask that we all give careful thought to what we can now do so that our students can take their next steps. The University has previously asked staff to get all final marks in by Friday 14 July.
  • We remain committed to positive outcomes at a local level where possible. We are committed to a project to consider staff workloads; we are working with our trade unions on issues of precarious employment; we are a leading university for family friendly benefits; we have reduced our gender pay gap; we will shortly launch a Staff Hub with support and information for disabled colleagues; and we have agreed with the Durham University branch of UCU that there is significant, further work that we can undertake locally on pay for academic staff.

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Statement from Durham University on the UCU marking and assessment boycott

Published: 12.45pm, Tuesday 27 June 2023

“Our finalists urgently need to receive their final marks and conclude their degree to be able to move onto the next chapter in their lives. We have asked staff who are members of the UCU and who have chosen to take part in the marking and assessment boycott to prioritise our students and get all final marks in by Friday 14 July. 

“The vast majority of Durham’s undergraduate students (around 80%) will at this point graduate with a classified degree or will receive an interim award. A significant minority of students (around 20%) will, at the moment, face delays in receiving all their marks and final classifications.

“The University is working round-the-clock to ensure all undergraduate students, once all marks are in and assessed, receive their degree. Durham undergraduate degrees are heavily weighted towards final examinations and projects, so we are particularly affected by the timing of the boycott.

“The impact of the boycott has been significant in some departments. 

“We are taking further steps to ensure that vital work is completed. We continue to update, regularly, our students.  We are also offering them a range of pastoral and practical support, including individual support in contacting employers or other higher education institutions on their behalf.

“We fully appreciate how this damaging dispute is affecting many of our students and staff. Throughout this period of industrial action, University senior leaders have engaged intensively, repeatedly and energetically with the UCEA Executive and Board, as well as with fellow universities, as we search for a way forward at the present time and seek longer term solutions for the pay and conditions of our staff.   

“We nevertheless acknowledge that we are part of national collective pay bargaining. Our UCU branch very recently affirmed to us their ongoing commitment to this national approach. 

“Last year (2022), when a marking and assessment boycott was imminent, we were able to reach agreement with our local trade unions to resolve a local dispute. This year is different. This is a national dispute that requires resolution at a national level. 

“We remain fully committed to engaging in constructive and forward-looking discussions on our own local level, and to working together to achieve positive outcomes for everyone as far as we possibly can. We have been undertaking a comprehensive programme of work over the last 12 months to address issues of importance to our staff.”

Further information:

  • Our processes of assessment and decision making throughout the summer remain academically rigorous. We remain accountable to the regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), on academic quality and standards. 
  • Students will remain a Durham student until they have officially graduated. They can continue to use student support services, including our Counselling Service, email and library services.
  • All students have been invited to congregation ceremonies to mark the completion of their degree at Durham. All degree awards will be conferred at a separate time to these ceremonies. We will advise students when their degree has been conferred in absentia. For students who have their final classification, the conferral of award will be done on Friday 7 July and their degree parchment will be sent shortly thereafter.  (NB Degree parchments are not handed out at graduation as standard practice every year and are always sent out at a later date).
  • Students who have not yet received their final award will also be invited to an additional graduation ceremony in Spring 2024, also in Durham Cathedral.  The University will make a financial contribution to expenses and will not charge for hire of robes.  
  • We are one of 145 universities engaged in national pay bargaining, who are all experiencing affordability issues and industrial action in different ways.
  • In common with most of the sector, Durham University is working within considerable economic constraints. Our regulator, the OfS recently reported that 38% of UK higher education institutions will report deficits, rather than surpluses, this year.  
  • Earlier this year, Durham University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen O’Brien, stated publicly at a national Think Tank debate (“Breaking the Impasse”), sponsored by the University, that the current Higher Education funding model is not fit for purpose. See: Policy Exchange debate - Durham University



Statement from Durham University on the UCU marking and assessment boycott

Published: Monday 19 June 2023

“The majority of Durham’s undergraduate students will graduate with a classified degree or will receive an interim award, while, unfortunately, a significant number of students will face delays in receiving all their marks and final classifications. 

“We deeply sympathise with our students, already impacted by the pandemic, who now endure further uncertainty and anxiety.  

“We are reassuring our students that any remaining work will be marked as swiftly as possible, and we will provide marks and final classifications as soon as they are available.  

“We will maintain academic standards and are accountable to the Office for Students on this.   

“We communicate regularly with students and are offering them individual support, including liaising directly with employers or other universities where they are continuing studies.  

“All students are invited to ceremonies in Durham Cathedral this summer. We have offered further ceremonies at a later date to those who cannot receive a final degree classification at the present time.   

“It is deeply disappointing that the UCU have implemented a national marking and assessment boycott, and that some of our staff have chosen to take part. The impact of the industrial action is concentrated in a few departments.   

“As a university we are part of national pay bargaining. We are caught up in a dispute that affects 145 higher education institutions.  

“The dispute is the result of an aggregated national ballot carried by a narrow majority of UCU members. Although we have made strenuous efforts, in dialogue with the employers’ body, UCEA, to seek a way forward, this is not an issue we can resolve locally. 

“While we deeply appreciate the cost-of-living pressures on all our staff, universities also face significant financial challenges.”  

Background information:  

  • Durham University exam and assessment results are published from Monday 19 June, earlier than many universities.  
  • Around 16% of Durham’s academic staff have declared that they are taking part in the marking and assessment boycott.  Detailed University mitigations are in place to address the impact of the boycott.  
  • Students will remain as a Durham student until they have all their results and have officially graduated. Support, including access to our Counselling Service, remains accessible until this point.  
  • Students receive regular communications from the University, across many channels. They have access to almost 60 detailed FAQs covering a range of scenarios: these are updated daily.  We also update regularly our website Industrial Action - Durham University 
  • We are accountable to and are in regular contact with our independent regulator, the Office for Students (OfS) on maintaining academic standards.  
  • Academic staff have been offered a cost of living pay settlement of 5%, and some of this has already implemented early. This comes on top of the 2-3% increment that all staff who are not at the top of their pay scale receive annually.