Assessment Boycott: A Briefing Note for Students

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at Newcastle University will begin a boycott of the marking process from 3 June 2016 unless a resolution to the dispute over performance management can be reached before then. We know that students will be concerned about the impact the boycott is likely to have and we want to explain what is happening and why.

What is a marking boycott?

Under a marking boycott, UCU members will cease to carry out tasks relating to marking, course work assignments, examinations or any other formal assessment of students’ work.

How will the boycott affect students?

If there is no resolution to our dispute by 3 June, lecturers will stop marking work. That means that staff participating in the boycott will not mark your essays, projects, exams or dissertations, neither will they assess or grade any of your practical work.

Does this action cover all students?

Yes. The boycott covers any marking which contributes to the award or classification of any degree, certificate, diploma or any other academic or professional qualification. It also covers progression from one stage of study to the next (for example from an MPhil to a PhD). UCU members will carry out all other duties as normal.

Why are university staff taking this action?

Last autumn, without consultation with UCU or staff, Newcastle University management issued a set of Research Performance Expectations documents against which academic staff will in future be judged. They include expectations for standards and numbers of publications, research grants raised, and PhD students who graduate. These things are either outside of the control of academic staff, subject to contested and sometimes subjective judgements, or both. University staff objected in large numbers, both through and beyond the union. In response, the university management has sought to reassure us that the expectations will be applied ‘holistically’. However, the management has refused to assure us of a central point: that staff will not be judged according to criteria that are beyond our control or subjective. Instead, we have invited the management to consult widely with the union and all members of the university in order to develop a genuine procedure to Improve Research Together.

What has this got to do with students?

This has been a very stressful year for academic staff, many of whom have been concerned that the new policies may lead to them never achieving promotion, or worse, facing capability procedures or being pushed out of research altogether. Newcastle University students rightly expect to be taught by active researchers. Stressed-out staff are unable to give their best attention to students.

We apologise for the disruption

We know that this action will cause disruption. We’re very sorry about this. None of our members comes to work wanting to take any kind of action that negatively impacts on students. Our members are the people who teach and research and provide a world-class education for students at this University, and they are passionate about what they do.

The fact is that Newcastle University management could have resolved this dispute months ago by withdrawing the Research Performance Expectations documents, admitting they made a mistake, and committing to a renewed, collegial, consultative process to improve research. Their decision to allow this dispute to continue is damaging the quality of your education. We have tried to persuade them to resolve this dispute through negotiation and through our campaigning but they just won’t listen – a boycott of the marking process is the last resort.

Newcastle University management can end this dispute today

The truth is that this dispute is unnecessary. Newcastle University’s management could end it today, without costing them a penny. This is about how the University works: as a collegial, collective place where decisions are made through consultation and discussion, or as a place where decisions are made at the top and implemented through fear.

What can you do?

If you are concerned about your work not being marked, or wish to express your views on the dispute, please email the Vice Chancellor, Professor Chris Brink, at chris.brink@ncl.ac.uk. Ask him to resolve the dispute today by withdrawing the Research Performance Expectations documents and entering into genuine dialogue with all staff about how to make Newcastle University a better place. Talk to Newcastle University Students Union about how you can get involved. Speak with your lecturers and other university staff and let them know you support them. Contact Newcastle University UCU to find out more: ucu.office@ncl.ac.uk

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