The University and College Union (UCU) took industrial action across the country during the 2022/2023 academic year to improve pay and working conditions for members in higher education. Alongside regular strike action, which meant carrying out only core duties, staff took part in a marking and assessment boycott (MAB) from 20 April. During this time, no marking and assessment-associated activities were being done. The MAB was called off on 6 September, after 60% of members voted in favour of suspending it. In her statement, UCU general secretary Jo Grady confirmed that the universities and numerous employers have agreed to end punitive pay deductions and that “the sacrifice that staff has made has been immense and has had an enormous impact on the dispute.”
On 11 September, on behalf of the University of Sussex Internal Communications team, Vice-Chancellor Sasha Roseneil expressed that “the last few months have been difficult and stressful for everyone in UK higher education. With the boycott now over, the priority is to mark and assess the work of our students that remains outstanding as soon as possible. All outstanding marking and assessment should now be completed on Monday, 2 October.” Roseneil added that if staff have participated in the boycott and all of their remaining marking is complete by this deadline, or they have declared themselves available to complete any marking assigned by that date, all salary deductions for their participation in the boycott will be returned. This comes after some universities threatened to make partial or full salary deductions for their staff for participating in the MAB.
A recent Sussex graduate commented: “My final year of university was particularly stressful due to the strikes and the MAB. Planning research was difficult knowing that some professors weren’t around. I also spent the whole summer feeling anxious because I didn’t fully know my grades.” Due to this, applying for master’s programmes was not possible for her. “All I received in the end was a Canvas notification and an Interim transcript. I feel let down by the university and a lot of other students say the same. I paid money for an institution that cannot even pay their staff.” Similarly, a friend of hers was declined a previously secured offer for a graduate scheme because of the missing results. Stories like this can be found across the UK, with the MAB affecting countless students.