University staff set to launch assessment boycott as pensions row remains unresolved


UCU members vote for assessment boycott. Photo: Pete on Flickr

Staff at 69 universities across the UK will begin an assessment boycott next Thursday after on-going rows over pensions remain unresolved.

The assessment boycott, which begins on November 6, will affect Goldsmiths and Queen Mary’s students. The boycott will halt exams and stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback.

The University and College Union’s (UCU) decision comes after employers failed to guarantee that they were making any effort to protect staff’s pensions.

The secretary of Goldsmiths UCU, Des Freedman, said: “The employers are demanding changes to a scheme that makes a surplus year on year and are insisting that there is no alternative. This isn’t true.”

The disagreement began after Universities UK (UUK) submitted new pension proposals that staff believe would leave them financially worse off. The UUK want a new scheme that sees staff get pensions based on an average salary, as oppose to the current scheme, which is based on an individual’s final salary.

The changes were put forward by the UUK following an expected deficit of the current pension scheme, Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

Although students will be undesirably affected, Freedman hopes they will remain supportive of staff. He said: “I think students would be rightly outraged if the college hiked tuition fees in the middle of their studies. This is what we are facing with our pensions.”

“We have a strong mandate for action” Freedman continued, “And we really hope the students will support our campaign. Not least because the students of today will be the lecturers of tomorrow and deserve a decent pension.”

Alex Trask, 21, a student at Goldsmiths, said: “I’m very against the averaging of pensions so I do support the staff’s decision to boycott. I believe it’s a fundamental human right to be able to withdraw your labour and it’s an effective way to draw attention to the issue.”

He continued: “This action will have very little impact on us as we’ll still get the education we’ve paid for. However, I feel a boycott is not the only direction. Staff should make a better effort to mobile the students and build a solidarity between staff and students on top of their current efforts.”

Another supporter, Tom Jolly, 20, a student at Queen Mary’s said: “I agree with the staff’s decision. Although it is annoying that the students will be affected, I don’t think there is another way to prove their point.”

Conversely, another student at Goldsmiths, Chloe Millen, 22, said: “I don’t know if I support it. I think there has been too much industrial action affecting us when none of this is our fault. We’re spending £9000 a year on a service we aren’t getting.”

The UCU and universities will meet again on Friday to resume negotiations to solve the current impasse.

Paul Anderson, the president of Queen Mary’s UCU, said: “This is a complex issue, it will have to be solved by serious negation, requiring time.”

In the meantime, any students who are unhappy and want to see a quick resolution are asked by Freedman to: “Write to the Warden urging him to lobby the employers to change their approach and to sit down properly with us and talk about the real issues affecting university life.”

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