egotiations over university staff’s pay must restart “urgently” to prevent students from facing graduation delays due to a marking boycott, the University of Cambridge’s leader has said.
The dispute should be “resolved as quickly as possible” so that students have their exams marked on time, a statement from Dr Anthony Freeling, acting vice-chancellor at Cambridge University, and Michael Abberton, president of the University and College Union (UCU) Cambridge branch, has urged.
Members of the UCU began the boycott at 145 universities across the UK in an ongoing dispute over staff’s pay and working conditions on April 20.
The union has said the boycott, which has been in place for more than a month, will continue until employers make an improved offer.
The acting vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge and the union’s Cambridge branch have called on the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to return to the negotiating table with the UCU “to reach an agreed settlement” for the sake of students who face graduation delays.
This cohort of students have already been hit especially hard by the pandemic; now, many are facing the likelihood that the completion of their degrees and their graduation may be delayed
The UCU is calling on universities to follow Cambridge’s lead as it warned that “a national degree scandal” could take place if a resolution is not found.
But the UCEA has said previously that participation by academics in the union’s industrial action has been “isolated” and the impact has been “low”.
The joint statement from Cambridge says: “It is regrettable that the national pay and conditions dispute has reached a point whereby a marking and assessment boycott has been called.
“Very sadly, and as things stand, it is likely to have a significant impact on students at Cambridge, and across the country.
“This cohort of students have already been hit especially hard by the pandemic; now, many are facing the likelihood that the completion of their degrees and their graduation may be delayed.
“The boycott also means that some international students may not be able to apply for post-study graduate visas on completion of their course.
“No-one wants students to suffer further, and we are deeply sympathetic to the strength of feeling in our student body. For many, including staff, this is a stressful and anxious time.”
If UCEA fails to listen to universities like Cambridge, a national degree scandal is coming around the corner. It’s time to get serious, and fast
It adds: “We therefore call for negotiations between UCEA and UCU to restart to reach an agreed settlement. This needs to happen urgently, for the sake of our students, staff and members.”
The move comes after university students in the UK have voiced fears that their degrees will be “devalued” and their graduations will be delayed due to the marking and assessment boycott.
Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, called the statement from the Cambridge leader a “hugely significant moment” in the ongoing dispute.
She said: “Rightly, Cambridge can see that the only way to find a resolution so students can progress is by getting back around the negotiating table.
“If UCEA fails to listen to universities like Cambridge, a national degree scandal is coming around the corner. It’s time to get serious, and fast.
“Other universities now need to follow Cambridge’s lead, show that they care about their students and call on UCEA to re-enter negotiations and end the dispute.”