UCU UCL - Update - Academic Board vote result & UCL’s response to the MAB

11 May 2023

We have received a lot of questions in the last few days about how UCL is responding to the MAB, and what UCU is doing nationally to reopen negotiations. We have included an update on both of these issues below (Appendices 2 and 3).

We are pleased to report that UCL’s Academic Board sent the strongest possible signal to Senior Management that their current approach to deductions for participating in the Marking and Assessment Boycott is wrong. Academic Board is not the Union: it is the highest body of the university constitutionally responsible for academic matters, and its membership consists of all UCL professors plus elected members of the university community, and some senior managers.

Academic Board debated a motion on Wednesday that advised Council to instruct senior management to stop the ‘punitive and disproportionate’ deductions from pay that UCL is currently threatening members with.

This motion was passed by an overwhelming vote of 87% in favour (8% against) in a well-attended meeting with 425 members present. 

The motion also called for a ‘nuanced and proportionate approach to deductions,’ whereby staff are deducted no more than the time allocated in each individual's workload model for marking and assessment activities, and sought a guarantee that, if and when the MAB is called off, and where marking and assessment is subsequently carried out, no deductions will be made. 

The full text of the motion is in Appendix 1 below.

NB. Members should be aware that management has now said the deadline for declaring taking part in MAB has been moved from 12 May to 9 June.

More important revelations from the Academic Board meeting can be found in our updates in Appendix 2 below.

Action points and FAQs:

UCL UCU Executive Committee


Appendix 1: Motion to Academic Board, May 10 2023

The approach chosen by the University Management Committee (UMC), to deduct 50% of pay for participating in the UCU Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) for the entire assessment period of 24th April to 6th July, is punitive and disproportionate. This deduction comprises 36.5 days of pay at a rate of 1/365, equivalent to 10% or 0.1FTE of a full-time annual salary. This approach will be taken regardless of the actual quantity of work boycotted.

We believe that this blanket approach is not only morally questionable but would likely fail any legal test of proportionality. It also disregards and undermines the good will of staff, on which UCL runs. The path chosen by the UMC is among the most extreme in the sector and is causing reputational damage to UCL in the national and international academic community, risking our ability to attract the best staff and students.

Academic Board agrees that the allotted time for grading and assessment activities for most academic staff does not amount to 50% of their time in any one period, and certainly not the period 24 April to 6 July. Some members of staff have a very small marking load in that period, others do not mark at all until the end of that period. Most have an allocation of hours which is considerably less than the 36.5 whole days (160 hours) for which UCL is deducting pay across the board. It is therefore wrongful, because disproportionate, and in breach of the terms and contracts of most academic staff to impose a deduction of 50% of salary for boycotting marking and assessment, whilst expecting staff to carry on in all their other work activities as normal.

Therefore, AB advises Council to direct the UMC:

  • to withdraw the threat of 50% deduction for any participation in the UCU MAB,  
  • to adopt a nuanced and proportionate approach to deductions, whereby staff are deducted no more than the time allocated in each individual's workload model for marking and assessment activities, and
  • to guarantee that, if and when the MAB is called off, and where marking and assessment is subsequently carried out, no deductions will be made.

Passed by 87% to 8% (with 4% abstentions), in a meeting with 425 present.

Appendix 2: How are UCL responding to the MAB?

a) Union reps have met UCL twice, during which it has become increasingly clear that the Management rationale for UCL's deduction plan is intended to be a threat, and is not intended to be proportionate. Although this may lead to anomalies like PhD viva boycotts leading to massive salary deductions, that is not their principal focus. They are particularly concerned at the moment about 3rd year ug graduations.

b) At the Academic Board meeting on Wednesday 10 May, in the course of the debate on the motion, senior managers publicly set out two apparent changes to their position.

  • Firstly, they now seem to have accepted that colleagues are not really obliged to declare participation in the MAB until the 9 June.
  • Secondly, they are saying they are ‘accepting’ partial performance but take the 50% deduction over 73 days to be proportionate to the ‘impact on students’ - a stance that they bizarrely still insist is not punitive.

In addition, the Provost invited people to challenge the blanket deductions on an individual basis if they thought that 10% of annual salary was way out of line with their actual marking duties.

c) UCL is trying to introduce "mitigation" proposals, which would permit students to progress or graduate with interpolated marks. However professional bodies involved in course accreditation are not guaranteed to be blasé about students graduating without certain key assessments. 

If colleagues have contacts with professional bodies we would encourage colleagues to reach out to them. See this letter from the Institute of Physics (IOP) as an example of the kind of robust academically defensible position many can be encouraged to adopt. The Royal Society of Chemistry has issued a similar letter.

d) The way to support our students is to resolve the dispute. Continued threats and brinkmanship from a handful of employers (including UCL) represent a barrier to resolving the dispute and navigating an outcome in the best interests of students. 

University management teams are not occupying a moral high ground. University employers have treated the state-backed high tuition-fee period since 2011 as a licence to become more like competing corporations than universities, expanding in a cut-throat competition to recruit students, and both students and staff have suffered as a result. Tuition fees have increased while pay and pensions have been cut. We can all see how the employers have not demonstrated concern with staff and student welfare in the Cost of Living Crisis, even following a period when staff, and not buildings nor management, ‘were’ The University during lockdown.

Appendix 3: What is happening in national negotiations?

UCU is in the process of approaching the employers regarding reopening negotiations, talking to the other trade unions, all of whom have rejected the pay offer. Another 9 UNISON branches have just won a ballot for strike action - UCL UNISON will be in a second wave of ballots starting soon.

Realistically we would expect the employers to start taking negotiations seriously once they realise that they can't ride out the dispute. The ball is in UCEA’s court.

The employers have formally 'closed' the negotiations for next year's award early (from August 2023). However, normally the negotiation round would continue into the summer. This means that from a financial and business planning point of view, if they were to make an increased offer for 2023-24 they have more scope to negotiate an improved offer, because they have a longer time before they would need to implement.

Conversely, an early offer means staff are all taking the financial risk while inflation remains high.

Based on March data, we are still facing a pay cut equivalent to 39 calendar days (against CPI) and 55 days (against RPI) over two years. Unless inflation falls by August 2023,* from that point forward we will be 10-15% worse off than in 2021, or, to put it another way, we will all effectively be working for free for 39-55 days every year in August 2021 money. This is without any pay deductions for striking or taking ASOS!

*Comment: The Government has been promoting the idea that inflation 'will' or 'is about to' fall, but the empirical evidence is that current levels appear resilient (January-March 2023 shows inflation ‘flat-lining’), most likely because we appear to be in a commodity-commodity spiral, with the rising costs of goods in one sector triggering rises elsewhere.