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Email to PGRs 18 April 2023

Email from Charlie Jeffery, Vice Chancellor, to all postgraduate researchers.

Marking and assessment boycott: information for PGRs

Dear postgraduate research students,

I write to you all about the start of a marking and assessment boycott by UCU members.

Latest in national negotiations

As I have detailed in previous emails, much progress has been made in national negotiations on industrial relations. In March, national employer and trade union representatives agreed proposals to resolve the conflicts on both the pensions, and pay and conditions disputes. These proposals were then put out to consultation of their respective members. 

At the same time as consulting its members on these proposals, the UCU also sought and won an extension of its mandate for further industrial action, and gave notice to commence a marking and assessment boycott as of Thursday 20 April. 

Yesterday, we learned that UCU members wish to continue joint working on pensions resolution, which is very good news indeed. However, members rejected proposals to resolve the pay and working conditions dispute. As part of this, UCU calls on members to participate in the marking and assessment boycott from Thursday 20 April. 

The timing of this escalation is very disappointing given the recent progress and constructive atmosphere in national negotiations. 

Marking and assessment boycott 

I am writing to all PGRs knowing that this could impact you in different ways. 

For PGRs concerned about the impact on vivas and annual progression, my main message is that we are absolutely determined that this does not compromise the quality of your education, or the quality of a postgraduate degree from the University of York.

I know this is a difficult and worrying time for all, no matter what your personal views are of industrial action. We have created some dedicated frequently asked questions on our industrial action webpages, but I’m afraid there will be some uncertainty ahead.

It may be that, as a Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), you could be asked to support marking, and you should discuss this within your Department/School. For GTAs who support marking and assessment, and who may be thinking about taking part in this boycott, there are further details below about the action we are taking. 

What you need to do

Firstly, most PGRs will either be unaffected or see minimal impact from the marking and assessment boycott

Some of the uncertainty is because we don't know how many staff will be taking part, or to what extent, or for how long. 

We haven’t been subject to a marking and assessment boycott here at York before. But we’ve certainly planned for it. 

PGRS should continue as normal to engage with your research, training and any taught modules. Your supervisor(s) will continue to support you academically. We are currently looking at ways to support progression even if timelines are disrupted.

For GTAs: details of withheld pay process for any colleagues participating in the boycott

The nationwide boycott will put student graduations at risk, as well as progression between different years of study. As such, it will cause anxiety and distress to many students. 

Our priority will therefore be to do all we can to ensure that students can graduate or progress despite the boycott. With this in mind, we have made the difficult decision to withhold pay for those taking part in the boycott, including GTAs.

Refusal to participate in marking and assessment is a breach of contract, and entitles employers to withhold all pay. However, we have made a decision to make a discretionary payment to those participating in the boycott equivalent to 50% of pay during this boycott period. We reserve the right to increase or decrease this discretionary payment as we assess the impact of the boycott.

HR will be emailing all employees with further information, which will also be published on our industrial action webpages. This will provide more details on how we will identify whether colleagues are participating in the boycott. It is important to note that UCU has advised its members to respond accurately if they are asked directly about whether they are currently participating in the boycott. 

The future for the sector

This situation is a matter of immense regret to me. I have set out publicly how important it is for the sector to move beyond this current and long period of industrial dispute

I have discussed this in detail with colleagues in our campus unions, along with the contributions I have made to the discussions which led to the proposals for resolution agreed by negotiators in March. 

I will continue to work towards an overall resolution and, in particular, to work towards an early end to the marking and assessment boycott. As ever, I encourage colleagues in the UCU to do the same.

Best wishes


Vice-Chancellor and President

Contact us

If you're a member of staff taking part in industrial action, please contact HR if you have any questions:

Use this email address for any other enquiries:

Contact us

If you're a member of staff taking part in industrial action, please contact HR if you have any questions:

Use this email address for any other enquiries: