Marking & Assessment Boycott 2022

Key information about the 2022 Marking & Assessment boycott. Click for more information on:

See here for further FAQ responses, and national UCU FAQs, and contact your departmental rep / the branch committee for more information. Join our branch daily support meetings 10am on Zoom.

What is a marking & assessment boycott?

A marking and assessment boycott is a form of ‘action short of a strike’ (ASOS) where staff refuse to participate in any activities related to grading and assessing students’ work. This includes: marking coursework, practical work and exam papers; moderating to ensure fairness and parity across all those involved in marking an assignment; checking marks transferred onto students’ records are correct and mitigation has been accounted for; and sending marks and moderation to external examiners to check they are fair and unbiased, adhere to university regulations, and align with other universities.

Marking and assessment is a key element of our current unsafe and unsustainable workloads. For instance, at Kingston, staff are allocated 20 minutes to read, assess and write feedback on a 2000-word essay (on modules often including 100+ students), or 1 to 1.5 hours to mark, give feedback on and moderate a 12-15,000 word MA dissertation. A 20 day turnaround is enforced for returning grades and feedback, regardless of whether we work on part-time contracts or are on annual leave, and we’re regularly given less time. With job cuts and restructuring of professional services, more and more of the admin duties involved in processing student marks have been pushed onto academic staff without any more time being allocated in which to do this.

A marking & assessment boycott is not full strike action – all of our other work teaching and supporting students, and engaging in research, professional practice, training, planning and development, would carry on as usual.

When is the marking & assessment boycott at Kingston taking place?

The marking & assessment boycott at Kingston will run from 23rd May until Kingston senior leaders agree to national action as part of the Universities & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and action over points of the Four Fights dispute they have acknowledged can be addressed, in part, at a local level.

It is in the hands of Kingston’s senior leadership to take steps to end this boycott and this dispute. The more pressure we can apply at the outset, the more likely that the boycott will be effective and compel university leaders to negotiate meaningfully on the issues we are campaigning over.

This will be followed by strike action (which may be withdrawn if Kingston senior leaders publically commit not to deduct any pay for participation in the boycott) and is accompanied by other action short of a strike including working strictly to contract.

After the boycott ends, staff will take as much time safely within their contracted hours to complete outstanding marking and assessment.

How do I participate in a marking & assessment boycott?

For staff at Kingston who are UCU members, a marking & assessment boycott involves:

  • Not marking any assignments or exam papers received in the boycott period.
  • Not uploading marks to Canvas.
  • Not submitting any .csv files downloaded from Canvas
  • Not uploading marks to any other centralised university system
  • Not undertaking second marking
  • Not participating in moderation
  • Not participating in scrutiny or ratification of marks on OSIS
  • Not uploading / sending marks or moderation records to external examiners
  • Not participating in exam invigilation.

You should expect and offer to carry on with your other duties as normal.

See also UCU advice for heads of department and line managers participating in the boycott.

If you are not scheduled or asked to carry out any duties relating to marking and assessment, you should work as normal. However, if you are subsequently asked to carry out such duties, you should refuse to do so. No colleague should under any circumstances mark work or undertake assessment administration that was previously assigned to another colleague who is participating in the boycott. This undermines the marking boycott, the sacrifices of your colleagues, and academic standards. From Monday 23rd May all other aspects of our ASOS, including working strictly to contracts and contracted hours, not covering absent colleagues, and not undertaking voluntary activities, also come back into force.

If any UCU members in professional services are involved in inputting data or compiling marks ahead of exam board meetings, our ASOS allows them not to participate in these activities. Further guidance for Academic-related and Professional Services staff

External examination may not be by the boycott but UCU guidance states: ‘if the university you are examining at has an industrial action mandate and is participating in the marking and assessment boycott, you should carry out your obligations under this contract but also take the steps outlined here’ .

Why are we doing a marking & assessment boycott?

Nationally, 85.9% of university staff who voted in the April UCU ballot supported taking action that would include a marking & assessment boycott. At Kingston, 85% of UCU members who voted also backed this move. It is therefore part of lawful industrial action and the renewed mandate for strike action and action short of strike we have from May until October 2022.

This boycott is an escalation of the current action short of strike we have been undertaking since December 2021, which so far has involved working to contract and not rescheduling classes lost to strike action.

A marking & assessment boycott is one of the most serious actions staff can take, and not something we undertake lightly. 

But we have been pushed into taking this further step by university leaders who have refused to negotiate in any way over the issues we have been on strike about – the shame of pay inequality, unsafe workloads, insecure temporary contracts and shrinking pay. UK Vice-Chancellors, who pay themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds a year and sit on a total sector income of £41.9bn with £46.8bn reserves, have ignored us, gaslit us, and taken 0 action to put an end to this dispute. After 13 strike days which have caused disruption to students, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), have refused to make any improved offers at all, and worse have tabled a 3% pay uplift for 2022-23 at a time when inflation is at 9% and rising (i.e. a further 6% pay cut this coming year).

Marking & assessment boycotts have proven to be one way to force university leaders to listen to and negotiate with staff. In 2021 at University of Liverpool the UCU branch used a marking boycott as part of their action to stop all 47 compulsory redundancies being pushed through in the Health and Life Sciences faculty.

How can we support students during the boycott?

Read and share our letter to Kingston students regarding the boycott.

A marking & assessment boycott inevitably impacts students, will delay the publication of final marks for the year, and may delay graduation. Staff work with dedication every year to ensure students’ hard work is fairly and properly assessed. Kingston students know how much we care about them, their progress and futures. We wouldn’t have taken 13 days of strike action over issues that damage our ability to teach them and create a toxic learning and working environment for us all if we didn’t care about students. It’s university leaders who don’t.

Vice-Chancellors were notified in January about the possibility of UCU action escalating to a boycott if no progress was made in negotiations, yet have done absolutely nothing to avoid it. They have shown they don’t care if students lose teaching to strike action. They only see students as cash cows to suck in and products to churn out. Refusing to submit and process marks is one of the few ways we have to disrupt that assembly line and make them listen. Kingston UCU want this action to hit senior management, not students.

We are committed to providing ongoing support to students. Kingston UCU members will be responsive to students’ individual circumstances and will take all action possible within the bounds of the boycott to ensure that no students face detriment. As part of this we commit to:

  • Provide informal feedback to students that occurs as part of ongoing teaching during the boycott.
  • Support applications for further study and/or funding, commenting on expected grades/performance where possible and appropriate.
  • Support job applications writing references and indicating past and projected performance.
  • Make sure that international students are supported;
  • Make sure PhD students are supported.

A delay not a cancellation: The return of grades will be delayed for a period of time, but will take place following the delay. We understand that final year undergraduate students will be concerned about the implications this action may have on the completion of their studies. This will only impact on final year undergraduate graduations if UK university leaders refuse to come to the negotiating table and work with us to create fairer, healthier, more equal and more sustainable pay and working conditions for staff.

We want to work with students in applying pressure to management to ensure that we can resolve our dispute as swiftly as possible. Kingston students have shown us amazing support throughout this dispute. We support students demanding partial fee refunds as a result of teaching lost to industrial action, as well as mitigation on assignments and no penalties for late submission and deferral. We are committed to working closely with Union of Kingston Students.

How can I support a marking & assessment boycott if I’m not a UCU member / if marking & assessment is not part of my job?

Staff can: join UCU and participate in this action. PhD students who teach can join for free. Otherwise you can support they boycott by:

  • Not taking on marking and assessment duties of other members of staff or on modules you do not teach.
  • Not taking on moderation or second marking duties of other members of staff.
  • Not undertaking scrutiny or ratification of marks or send materials to external examiners for other members of staff.
  • Not agreeing to be an external examiner to replace someone who has stood down due to the boycott.
  • Not declaring whether you are participating in the boycott in advance of it starting.
  • Supporting any Phd students and HPL colleagues coming under pressure to cover marking & assessment on modules they don’t usually teach.
  • Donating to the local Kingston UCU hardship fund, a member-generated resource to support staff severely impacted by loss of pay due to participating in action short of a strike. Members not able to boycott can ‘pledge a day’ of salary to the fund to support those taking part.
  • Getting involved in fundraising for the hardship fund, e.g. run a benefit event.
  • Helping spread the word: follow & share @kingstonucu on twitter + instagram

If you are a line manager, you can refuse to put pressure on module leaders to submit, process or ratify marks. If you are a module leader, you can refuse to allocate marking, organise moderation/parity meetings and processes, or assign roles to HPLs.

Students can:

  • Write to the Kingston Vice-Chancellor Steven Spier telling him you support us, and demanding he use his voice in UCEA to end the boycott by addressing our concerns. See template letter here.
  • Help spread the word: follow & share @kingstonucu on twitter + instagram
  • Donate to the local Kingston UCU hardship fund supporting staff severely impacted by loss of pay due to participating in industrial action.
  • Support fundraising for the local Kingston UCU hardship fund. See for details.
  • Work with Kingston UCU and Union of Kingston Students to demand pay deducted from staff for taking industrial action goes to the student hardship fund.
  • Raise a Notification with the Office for Students (OfS) that Kingston University senior management team has allowed disruption to their education.

How might Kingston University senior leaders respond to a marking boycott?

We have written to Kingston senior leaders regarding the national and local action they can take to address the issues raised in this dispute (see full letter here). This includes:

  • Writing an open letter to UCEA stating that ongoing and future pay negotiations must match inflation in order to prevent staff suffering during the cost of living crisis and halt the further erosion of pay in the sector.
  • Publishing the current number of staff vacancies in all areas of the University and commit to commit to recruit to these vacancies before the end of Teaching Block 1 2022.
  • Publically commit to end casual contracts at Kingston and convert all hourly-paid and zero-hours staff to permanent contracts by September.
  • Convert all eligible staff on HPL or fixed term contracts to permanent fractional or full-time posts at the appropriate spine point and on a fraction that fairly reflects their workload before the beginning of Teaching Block 1 2022.
  • To ensure that staff contributing to EDI initiatives, including networks, awards and benchmarking, have this work properly recognised within workload models, recognised in progression and promotion, (and through salary increase or acting up for leading roles.) To be completed within Teaching Block 1 2022.

At other universities like Goldsmiths and Queen Mary, senior leaders have responded to marking boycotts by undermining academic standards and taking punitive actions like:

  • Deducting 20% – 100% of the pay of staff participating in the boycott until grades are formally processed.
  • Trying to get staff who don’t teach on modules or courses to mark work, including pressurising PhD students and hourly-paid lecturers to do this for low pay.
  • Suspending second marking and moderation, and carrying marks through without them having been checked internally for fairness.
  • Suspending external examination of marking as part of quality assurance or using non-specialist examiners to ratify assessment in courses they aren’t familiar with.
  • Awarding temporary grades based on average marks.

Can pay be deducted for participating in a marking & assessment boycott?

As a form of action short of a strike (ASOS), participation in a marking & assessment boycott has been interpreted by some university management as partial performance of contract. Universities such as Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, Bristol, and Durham have stated ASOS constitutes partial performance, and have threatened 20% – 100% pay deductions, despite staff carrying out the majority of their duties. In response, additional local strike action until this threat is withdrawn has been called. The legality of pay deductions for partial performance is in question.

HR have announced that Kingston senior leadership intend to impose 100% pay deductions of staff taking part in the boycott, but they will make an ‘ex-gratia payment’ of 50% to staff who participate without prejudice for the duration of the boycott (reserving the right to reduce this level of payment). Any work done will be viewed as ‘voluntary’.

What happens if Kingston enacts their threat to deduct 100% pay?

Threats of 100% pay deductions for participation in a marking & assessment boycott, while the country is in the middle of a cost of living crisis, are a punitive and escalatory step aimed at bullying, intimidating and blackmailing staff into silence by pushing them into debt. Such a move can only damage the reputation of any university that undertakes it – showing their callous disregard for the people that work for them.

If Kingston takes this step, this is essentially be forcing a lock-out.  Witholding 100% of pay means we will stop work completely. No pay, no work. Our action short of a strike covers not undertaking any voluntary work.

Can I claim strike pay for participating in the marking & assessment boycott?

In February it was decided the UCU national Fighting Fund would be available to all members subjected to 100% action short of a strike (ASOS) deductions as well for strike days. This fund is the main source of financial support for members.

Dispute guidance states: “Payments also apply to action short of strike where the employer has deducted a full day’s pay for partial performance. In these circumstances eligibility and payments are as set out above [£50/£75 per day depending on earnings, subject to cap of 11 days].” This guidance also states that if members are making less than £30k they can claim an additional 5 days for ASOS on top of the 11 day cap. See here for more details: HE Disputes Guidance Feb 2022. Alongside other branches we are advocating for the cap to be raised.

We are also launching a local Kingston UCU hardship fund as a member -generated resource  to supplement the national fund for those in particular need. Details of how to apply will be forthcoming.

We are organising twinning with branches who are not involved in the boycott to offer direct moral and financial support.

See here for answers to further marking & assessment boycott FAQs.