UCU St Andrews is expressing its disapproval of the University of St Andrews’ response to the current marking and assessment boycott (MAB).
In an email sent on the 13 April outlining the University’s plans for addressing the MAB, the Proctor’s Office confirmed that June graduation ceremonies would go on as planned and that degrees were to be awarded without delay. Module outcomes where assessments were submitted but not marked due to the boycott are currently reported as 0Z, but updated certificates will be available upon request for recent graduates once previously boycotted works of assessment have been marked.
The email also stated, “Graduates whose overall outcomes and classifications have improved with these additional grades factored in will have this change recorded on their new certificates”.
“However, we will operate a no-detriment rule with regard to classification. This means that no student will receive a lower class of degree than the one that was awarded to them during the June graduation ceremonies”.
According to a University spokesperson, “Our approach was designed to ensure that our cohort of graduating students were able to walk across the stage this June and receive classified degrees, whilst maintaining the academic quality and rigour of a St Andrews degree.”
In response to the policy, on 25 May UCU St Andrews tweeted, “This is profoundly unfair to the hard work students & staff have put in. It shows a striking disregard for academic integrity.”
They further tweeted, “[T]here is likely to be a real discrepancy between degree quality across Universities this year. Well done UCEA [The Universities and Colleges Employers Association].”
A spokesperson for UCU St Andrews suggested that a better solution, “[...] would have been for St Andrews management to publicly call for employers to return to negotiations. Other Universities, such as Sussex and Cambridge have done so, in large part to try to avoid these issues with graduation. Apart from that, if the goal had been to support students, rather than to try to [undermine] the impact of the MAB, an alternative approach to graduations could probably have been worked out, even if it meant some delays to degree classifications that didn't undermine degree quality to the same degree as the current approach.”
Additionally, the University’s treatment of staff in responding to the MAB was characterised as “bullying” in a tweet from UCU St Andrews which also said, “The St Andrews approach is to deduct 50% for each day from May 20th – up until all marking is complete. This open-ended approach makes it one of the most punitive, while also not reflecting the proportion of work that is taken up with marking.”
They subsequently tweeted, “They have also confirmed to us, twice, that no equality impact assessment was done. This is despite the University having a legal obligation to do so". Deducting 50% of salary in a University with a mean gender pay gap of 20% will have significant gendered consequences.”
A UCU St Andrews spokesperson further commented, “We have encouraged management to undertake such an impact assessment. [...] There very well may be some legal challenges to how management has gone about the MAB deductions, and the lack of this equality impact assessment may form part of that”.
In response, a University spokesperson said, “UCU St Andrews’ tweet is wrong. They were told last month that we were conducting the screening exercise required by law to determine whether a full equality impact assessment was necessary. We also sought their assistance — which they would not give — in carrying this out. The screening exercise (essentially a light touch EIA) has been published on the University website. Since whether or not to participate in the MAB is a choice made by individual union members regardless of any protected characteristic, there is no direct discrimination involved”.
It is not only the policy responding to the MAB that UCU St Andrews takes issue with, but also the approval process.
In the same 25 May Twitter thread, UCU St Andrews said, “After a lot of scrambling, the policy was to go to Senate on May 24th. But, on May 18th, an email went to all members giving 1 day to approve or reject. Many members, incl. student reps, were on leave during this extremely short voting period. It was approved by 26 to 24”.
They continued, “An emergency meeting of Court met on May 23rd to approve this vote. In the May 24th Senate meeting, while there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the process and the policy expressed, the fact that it was approved over email meant there was no vote on it in that meeting”.
UCU St Andrews also alleged via Twitter that the Learning and Teaching Committee and Senate had not seen the plan.
A spokesperson for UCU St Andrews commented, “I don't think any of the current reps on Senate have experienced something like this. In particular, the tight timeline seems to be quite different, especially as this all happened during a time when many people are on leave, and so may not have been able to vote or attend emergency meetings”.
The University of St Andrews denies that the policy was “retrospectively approved” as UCU St Andrews tweeted.
A University spokesperson said, “Our approach to ensuring that students could graduate with classified degrees was developed within the context of existing policy, and was discussed extensively with students and schools since mid-April. Since a number of elected members of Senate belatedly asked to have the opportunity to express their views, Senate was invited to endorse (not approve) the proposed approach, and it was discussed fully at the subsequent Senate meeting.”.
With the dispute ongoing, a spokesperson for UCU St Andrews stated that, “[I]t has been incredible to see how much support we have already received from students, alumni, and community”.
The UCU St Andrews spokesperson also called on senior management to call for a full return to negotiations.
While pay disputes are negotiated and settled at the national level, a spokesperson for the University stated that they have, “[M]ade it clear in writing to UCU St Andrews that we are willing to discuss with them any proposals they may have to mitigate the local impact on our students of the MAB and the wider dispute. Our door remains open”.
They also said, “This is a national dispute which can only be resolved by UCU and UCEA nationally. St Andrews’ consistent position has been to call for a national settlement that is fair to staff, and sustainable and affordable for their institutions. Within the context of national collective bargaining, that means a settlement which is sustainable and affordable for all institutions. It is a matter of record that about a third of all UK universities have said the current pay offer is at or beyond the limit of affordability for them. UCEA remains at the negotiating table, and has offered to work with UCU for a detailed examination of [the] financial state of the sector”.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew