UK lecturers urged to end marking boycott

2023-08-15 08:19:48China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

With 2.9 million students set to return to UK universities next month after the summer break, the British government has urged a union representing lecturers not to ruin another academic year.

Education Minister Robert Halfon said in a letter to the University and College Union, or UCU, that a continuation of a boycott of the marking of exam papers that started in April must stop.

With around 550,000 overseas students paying a premium to attend UK universities, Halfon wrote: "It is unacceptable that students, many of whom have already suffered significant disruption to their studies over recent years, face further disruption and uncertainty."

He told Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, talks with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, or UCEA, should restart.

"Final-year students who have still not yet graduated will be understandably anxious about the status of job offers or progression to further study," he wrote. "It would be disappointing if future cohorts suffer similar disruption."

With the union vowing to continue its marking boycott until it secures a pay rise of around 12 percent, Halfon wrote: "Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current dispute, action that damages students' prospects is a wrong thing to do."

So far, UCEA's best offer has been around 5 percent to 8 percent.

The UK's inflation rate was 7.9 percent in June but experts say it may have dropped to less than 7 percent now, which could prompt the lecturers' union to rethink its demands.

Next steps

Senior union officials were due to meet behind closed doors on Monday to decide their next steps in the dispute that affects 145 UK higher education institutions.

Grady from the UCU told the BBC: "We've done everything possible to settle this dispute, protect UK degree standards and students' graduations."

She claimed universities would "rather throw students under the bus than settle this dispute".

But Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the UCEA, responded in a letter that universities are doing everything possible to "protect the interests of students".

UK universities, which are run as businesses, can charge UK students no more than 9,250 pounds ($11,700) a year in tuition fees but are able to charge international students more. The Guardian newspaper said they earn around a fifth of their income from foreign students, which will likely motivate the UCEA to resolve the dispute before it dents the number of students choosing to study in the UK.

International students are important to the UK economy, having contributed 41.9 billion pounds in 2021-22.


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