The Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) is supporting a lecturers’ marking boycott that is planned to begin on 6th November. The boycott will stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback, as well as halting exams.
The marking boycott was backed by members of the University and College Union (UCU) in a postal ballot after disagreements surfaced over pensions, with 78% of UCU members voting for strike action. The lecturers’ union claims that the pension changes proposed by Universities UK (UUK) would see members of the pension scheme lose thousands of pounds after retirement. However, UUK said that the proposals offer the best possible deal under the terms that the trustees of the national university pension scheme have set.
At Thursday night’s meeting of Union Council, councillors backed a motion from the Postgraduate Education Officer and the Campaigns & Democracy Officer which expressed support for the lecturers’ boycott. The motion argued that that “a workforce that is well paid and well remunerated in their retirement is in the interests of students” and that “the best way for UUEAS to prevent any potential disruption to students, is to join in solidarity with staff and pressure the Universities UK to grant their demands”. The motion was passed with a large majority, with only a handful of councillors voting against. UUEAS will be publicising the support services it offers for students affected by the boycott, and has issued a statement explaining its position.
The pension changes as proposed by UUK would:
• See employees receive pensions based off their average career salary, rather than their final salary, but only up to a £50,000 threshold;
• Increase employer contributions from 15% to 18%;
• Ask all employees, regardless of income, to contribute 6.5% of their wage to the pension scheme;
• And, for those earning over £50,000, make pensions dependent upon the pension scheme’s investments.
UUK argues that the pensions scheme is unaffordable and points to an £8bn shortfall calculated by the pension scheme’s trustees. UCU opposes these proposals, saying that the £8bn deficit reported in March only provides a snapshot of the scheme and that it contests the methodology used to calculate the proposals.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “The employers failed to convince us of the need for their dramatic changes or the reasons behind the methodology for its deficit reduction plan. Their proposals remain full of holes and the information they are apparently relying on to back them up keeps being exposed as misleading.
“We are setting plans for an assessment boycott in place because [pension scheme] members have made it clear they are unconvinced by the employers’ arguments as well. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke and that is simply not acceptable. We hope the employers will come back to the table for genuine negotiations aimed at resolving the enormous gap between our two positions”.
A Universities UK spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the UCU has decided to pursue a damaging course of industrial action aimed directly at disrupting students’ education. Taking industrial action will not make the substantial scheme deficit and the risks to the future viability of the scheme go away.
“The employers’ proposals for reform offer the best possible deal for employees within the constraints that the UUK Trustees have set. UUK falls under the remit of the Pensions Regulator. It has to meet certain minimum levels of funding, a test which it currently fails to the tune of at least £8bn. It is unavoidable that a recovery plan has to be agreed that would remove the deficit over a reasonable period”.