The Regent House is the governing body of the University and consists of over 3000 members of its academic and academic-related staffLouis Ashworth

The Regent House, the academic governing body of the university, has voted against proposals to introduce ‘emergency powers’ to mitigate the effects of the UCU’s marking boycott, after a ballot closed yesterday (15/05).

In an email sent by pro-vice-chancellor for education Bhaskar Vira, students were informed that “the measures that the University was seeking to help students complete their degrees and progress will now not be available”.

The mitigation measures proposed by the university’s executive body - the University Council - would have allowed candidates to graduate even if only a simple majority of examiners were present, provided students reached a minimum threshold of marks.

This would have insulated some students from the effects of the boycott. Others, depending on factors such as how many academics in their department boycotted, and whether their degree is fully weighted to final year performance, would have been less protected by the measures.

Disruption to assessments will now go ahead with relatively little mitigation, until the industrial dispute is settled, the union calls off the boycott, or the industrial action mandate ends.

This means that the boycott could last until September.

Could the UCU call off the boycott?

In the dispute, which focuses on pay and conditions, the UCU is not negotiating with the University of Cambridge, but instead with the employer's representative - the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA).

The UCU claims that academics' pay has fallen 25% in real-terms since 2009, and are demanding a pay rise of 12%, or RPI inflation plus 2%, whichever is higher. They are also demanding action to end zero hour and temporary contracts.

Strikes last year did lead to concessions from the UCEA, with a pay offer worth between 5% and 8%. However, the UCU criticised the package as a real-terms "pay cut", before members went on to vote to reject the offer.

On the other hand, there are signs that dispute resolution is possible. Pensions were part of motivation for past industrial action - but progress has now been made to resolve that dispute. Employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) had implemented major reforms to the pensions scheme. According to the UCU, the new policies wiped 35% of staff’s future retirement income. However, national strikes earlier this year led to new proposals from UUK, including commitments to prioritise restoring retirement benefits, which UCU members have now voted to move forward with.

The pro-VC claimed that “we will continue to make every effort to get work marked”, but stated that there would now be “longer delays for more students”. Vira also encouraged students to continue working as normal on exam preparation.

Stakes are particularly high for international students, who face the possibility of losing visas if graduations are delayed. In the email, pro-VC Vira said that he was “aware” that those “whose visas are due to expire will be worried”, before stating the University is “working hard to address this particular issue”.

Whilst pro-VC Vira stated in the email to students that “all industrial disputes ultimately end by negotiation”, the university has been criticised recently for not doing enough to bring the dispute to an end.

On Sunday (14/05), the new student campaign #SettleTheDispute, started circulating open letters at universities across the country, calling for senior administrative teams to publicly call on the UCEA to resume negotiations with the UCU. The Cambridge open letter has 574 signatures.

Bella Cross, a third year History and Politics student and representative of Cambridge’s #SettleTheDispute campaign, told Varsity: “Cambridge’s attempts to shirk responsibility from this disruption is adding insult to injury. The VC can use his voice to get the UCEA to settle the dispute with the UCU. Yet instead, the university is continuing to hold our futures hostage because they won’t fairly compensate academic staff for their work. We deserve to graduate, and staff deserve fair pay and conditions”.

After news came in about the Regent House vote against exam mitigation measures, some academics took to Twitter to call on the university to do more to resolve the underlying pay dispute.

Some academics went to Twitter to express pleasure at the mitigation measures not passing - calling them "strike-breaking". Instead, they called for the university to encourage the UCEA to re-enter negotiations with the UCU.

Cambridge’s recent decision to impose punitive pay deductions on staff engaging in the boycott has also sparked criticism from the UCU over how the university is handling industrial relations.


Mountain View

University proposing ‘emergency powers’ to protect students from marking boycott, says pro-VC

Cambridge UCU President Michael Abberton told Varsity: ​“Even though applying deductions might be legal, it does not mean that it is healthy in terms of industrial relations”. Abberton went on to state: “Most employers, Cambridge included, are trying to see if the threat of punitive deductions will deter markers from engaging in the boycott”, but that “the best solution would be for Cambridge and other universities to go back to UCEA and press for further negotiations and an offer that staff can accept, so that we can call off the action as soon as possible”.

Discussing the vote against the university’s mitigation measures, Cambridge UCU representative William Astle told Varsity: “this ballot was not about UCU industrial action, but about the values that underpin higher education. The result represents a tremendous defeat for managerialism and marketisation at Cambridge. The University – through the Regent House – has made clear to the administration that the standards of our profession must not be degraded”.

Astle went on to state that the University should now “do everything it can to resolve the dispute by pressing for negotiations to address reasonable demands”.

The University has reportedly set up an ‘Exams Emergency Task Force’, to advise departments and faculties on actions to “support students while maintaining academic standards”.