Why are we undertaking the MAB?

UCU members in the recent national e-consultation rejected the proposals from UCEA re Four Fights. Action on this dispute will now continue in the form of a national Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB). This means we boycott all activities associated with marking and assessment – marking, checking of exams, invigilating.

MABs are not easy but effective as it targets the University ‘output’, disrupting the employer’s ability to produce grades. Mitigations are much more difficult during a MAB than industrial action, it causes more disruption. 20 branches undertook a MAB last year due to local disputes and they have negotiated good local deals proving that MAB can be very successful as a strategy.

When is the MAB happening?

The national MAB started on Thursday 20th April, and is expected to continue until employers (through UCEA) table a renewed offer on Pay & Conditions that UCU members are willing to accept.

Who should take part?

All Brunel UCU members who are involved with assessment in any way (whether academics or in administrative/professional services roles) are asked to take part in the MAB action with immediate and ongoing effect.

This means ceasing any aspects of your work that relate to assessment – including summative marking and further associated activities/duties such as moderation, exam invigilation, administrative processing of marks, and involvement in Exam Boards.

What does the MAB entail?

National UCU’s official guidance on the MAB is at https://www.ucu.org.uk/MAboycottFAQs

The key tips are to not mark or assess, and not submit any marks for processing. Once MAB ends then members will resume their marking but if members were to immediately hand over marks then this also mitigates the ongoing delay and delay is a critical part of the disruption.

What about question-setting?

If you have been involved in question-setting for exams/assessment but not yet passed these on to other colleagues, you are asked not to do so (e.g. moving material from your own OneDrive to a shared area from where it can be put on Wiseflow). You can reasonably refuse a line managers’ request to do so on the basis that you are taking part in this industrial action.

Otherwise, it expected that most assessment/exam questions will have been set and shared, so mostly the MAB will just be about not marking. However, any UCU members who normally have responsibilities relating to Wiseflow etc can reasonably refuse to discharge these responsibilities during the MAB period.

What about in-person assessments?

You are free to attend in-person assessments such as vivas or performances, but you should not make notes during these – such notes would be classed as the property of the university and could in theory be taken from you so that someone else could do the marking.

There are further complexities to investigate on such issues, e.g. whether assessment leads would still need to turn up if someone else has been told to coordinate. Branch position are being developed on such issues and should hopefully be added to these FAQs.

Are PGR reviews, such as for progression in 6 – 9 months, part of MAB or not? 

Yes, they are part of the MAB – they are a formal progression point that leads to the award of a degree.

External examiners for courses and for PhD examination: what are the rules?

External examining is not part of the UCU action – but if people want to take additional action then there is not much the university can do other than terminate your contract.
As external examiner, you can support the action by playing close attention to whether Quality Assurance processes have been followed (see also the FAQ number 16 https://www.ucu.org.uk/MAboycottFAQs)

Academic misconduct cases: Are they part of MAB? 

Yes, they are part of MAB. Please see FAQ 15: 

UCU – Marking and assessment boycott FAQs 

Can we “mark and park” assessments?

Short answer: No: Please see FAQ 20 UCU – Marking and assessment boycott FAQs 

Line managers and employers are likely to attempt to reduce the impact of the action by e.g. redistributing marking. So if you mark and park, you might find yourself being deducted despite the work done, while your work in the meantime has also been done by someone else.

When colleagues from the TPO or colleagues in our Department/Division ask us about assessments, moderation, or they have a query about past assessments, do we respond?

Official HQ guidelines seem to suggest you are only expected to answer/respond when line manager of other official employer representative asks. That obviously does not include colleagues, but as these are the people we work with on a day-to-day basis, not responding may feel non-collegial to individuals particpating in MAB. Individuals can make the choice to respond to these emails, but should be careful about not discussing specifics of their MAB intentions. As an example: 

I support the current UCU Marking and Assessment Boycott (https://www.ucu.org.uk/MAB2023), and as such cannot currently respond to your questions/request for information/etc” [ tailor this last part to the request received].

What do you tell line manager(s) about your participation?

You do not need to announce your intention to take part in MAB beforehand – indeed, the Union would encourage you not to say so (as the University may be able to re-allocate work, thus undermining the point of the MAB) or answer emails asking about this.

However, once you have taken ‘deliberate inaction’ during what would have been the marking period, you must answer truthfully if asked – whether by your line manager or other senior manager(s) acting on behalf of Brunel as the employer. If requested, you should also retrospectively record on CHIME that you have taken industrial action for the appropriate number of hours.

Official guidance. Please see FAQ 13: 

UCU – Marking and assessment boycott FAQs 

However, this can be confusing if e.g. a line manager asks about MAB before the actual marking deadline. In that case, follow UCU guidance to the letter. In practice, this means we recommend you respond at the earliest at the end of the day that the line manager requested the information and then only report for that day.

  • If you would normally not have been doing any marking or assessment related activities that day (and it’s not exactly uncommon for academics to leave their marking to the very last minute), you would respond “I have today not taken part in the Marking and Assessment Boycott”.
  • If you would normally have been doing marking or assessment related activities that day, the response would be “I have today been taking part in UCU’s lawful industrial action in the form of a marking and assessment boycott. I have continued to perform all my normal duties other than those affected by the marking and assessment boycott currently called by my union.”

Should there be follow-up queries that aim to assess your future intentions, you can respond and respectfully decline to answer using something like “UCU has provided the Brunel with all information about the action required by law. I am not obligated to inform my employer/manager in advance as to whether I will be taking part in strike action or action short of strike.”

Do probationers have reason to be concerned about participating in the MAB – on account of the participation being used against them at their probationary review?

Ideally they shouldn’t. However, there may be line managers / Deans who might take a more intrusive approach to those reviews, if word spreads the probationer concerned was ‘unduly active’ in the Union. We advise any member on probation who has concerns to get in touch with the Branch.

When line mgmrs asks whether we are participating in action the line seems hazy- is MAB ongoing until the marks are due? Is that the point that I have to let my line mgmr know, especially if asked in person? When should I respond to my line mgmr? Is moderation involved?

This is how MAB is different as there is no clear end. This is how employers can deduct 100% pay for long periods. If asked, you should respond truthfully on those days that you are participating. Yes, moderation is involved.

How might MAB action intersect with research responsibilities? If on any day staff are focussing on research, and receive an email re MAB, can we ignore the email and not confirm that we are engaging in the MAB?

If it is a research focussed day when you would not be engaging anyway with Marking and Assessment activities then there would be no need to confirm that you are engaging with MAB for that day. Workload Models can also be used to push back on this.

Will Brunel be deducting pay for those taking part?

Yes, BUL has stated its position as:

The withholding of pay will be based on the following:

  • Full-time and part-time salaried colleagues: a daily rate of 50% x 1/365th of salary, excluding weekends, bank holidays, and any approved leave.
  • For HPLs and GTAs: 50% x the number of hours of work which have not been undertaken.

For colleagues participating in the boycott, pay will be adjusted in relation to the marking and assessment boycott in June for action taken in April and May and thereafter monthly in arrears.

Wage sharing is also an option as not all members are participating, and then the pain of the MAB will not just be felt by the few.

How else can we support colleagues taking part in the MAB?

Marking and assessment can be an isolated activity, this is same as MAB. There is no visible or collegial picket line. BUCU is working on setting up regular dept and member meetings in order that members can chat, ask questions, relay concerns. Also BUCU will set up a survey to try to map what type of assessments are impacted – and use anonymised information to show that we are all in this together.

What about support for students in crisis?

This would come under extenuating circumstances, as raised in the UCU HQ training session.

How can we make the MAB as effective as possible?

Liaison with other UCU colleagues within your Department and Division will be crucial. All members are encouraged to take part in both University-wide and Department-level MAB meetings to ensure your action is as effective as possible.

One suggested strategy is to focus on pinch points, such as modules where most involved staff are UCU members.

Staff in Departments without a nominated UCU rep are asked to actively step forward to help co-ordinate local work. We can have more than one rep from each Department too!