Marking Boycott FAQs for PhD students

FAQs written by and for PhD students about how to support with the UCU Marking and Assessment Boycott

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How to support the UCU Marking Boycott as a PhD Student (FAQs for psotgraduates)




The Boycott is Upon Us!

The University and College Union (UCU) has called a Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) as part of our ongoing Industrial Action within the University sector. This action aims to maximally disrupt the academic marking process of Higher Education, in order to force the Universities to make a better offer on pay, pensions, and working conditions. To help with identifying what is impacted and what actions to avoid, this FAQ was created.

What is a MAB?

A Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) is the collective refusal to carry out all marking and assessment processes that contribute to assessment decisions for students, at all points in their degrees. This will include dissertation marking at all levels, undergraduate examination and practical assessment marking (where they contribute towards a course grade), as well as postgraduate progression and completion vivas. It also includes invigilation work paid for by the University. Invigilation work paid for by the Colleges is not covered by boycott.

Why has a MAB been called?

Recently, UCU members across the country have overwhelmingly voted to reject an offer made by the University sector regarding pay, pensions, and working conditions pending consultation outcomes, and to continue our Action Short of a Strike (ASOS) alongside potential Strike Action for the next 6 months. In order to increase the pressure on our employers, the Union has announced that this will include a MAB, beginning on Thursday 20th April.

How long will the MAB last?

The MAB will begin on Thursday 20th April, and continue until a) the dispute is settled, b) the UCU calls off the action, or c) at the end of the mandate for Industrial Action (October 2023). We all hope that there is a speedy resolution to the dispute that allows action to end as soon as possible.  Individual UCU branches that have carried out MABs in the last few years have been able to suspend the action very quickly as the Universities were forced to take the disputes seriously. For example, the University of Leeds ended their 2022 boycott in just 3 weeks. At Cambridge, the more of us that participate in the MAB, the quicker there will be an end to the dispute.

Why should PhD students care about the MAB?

PhD students will be critical to the success of the boycott this term. Many of us already do work that is part of the MAB and will therefore be participating. For those of us not already doing work included in the MAB, it also is highly likely that the University will turn to us as potential examiners and/or invigilators to try and undermine this action organised by the UCU. By participating in the MAB for work we have already agreed to do and by not taking up any calls to break the boycott, we can make the difference between staff continuing to be overworked, underpaid, and stuck on short term contracts, and winning a better deal for the University Sector—and a better future for those of us who want to stay within it.

Beyond this, it is undergraduates at the University that will be most impacted by the MAB, and it is crucial that we stand in solidarity with them as they face delays to their results and therefore graduations for those in their final year. The best way we can do this is by throwing our weight behind the MAB, and ensuring that the dispute is resolved as quickly as possible, to the benefit of all students and staff.

My upgrade or final viva is scheduled for this term, will I be affected?

If you are scheduled to have a PhD confirmation or completion viva before the end of the boycott, it will be subject to the MAB. As many of us are PhD students ourselves, we completely understand the frustration this may cause, but it is absolutely crucial to ensure maximum disruption to the sector that will force Universities back around the negotiating table. Your support will mean everything to your supervisors and examiners, and can help you obtain a better future for yourself within academia. If you are a PhD student on a Tier 4 visa and think the MAB will have specific consequences for your visa, please get in touch with your supervisor or department and staff will work to support you

Are supervisions covered by the MAB?

No, as supervisions are within the remit of the Colleges, any activities relating to them remain unaffected by UCU Industrial Action. This means you can continue to give supervisions as normal, including the marking of work set for them. This also applies to revision supervisions run in preparation for University Examinations.

Is exam invigilation also covered by the MAB?

Any invigilation role offered by the central University's individual departments is subject to the MAB. This means anyone taking part in the boycott should not invigilate exams that take place on University property. Colleges are exempt from this rule, and any invigilation organised by individual Colleges to take place on College property will go ahead as usual. Please see “Is invigilating in colleges covered by the MAB?” below for more information.

Is invigilating in colleges covered by the MAB?

No, invigilation conducted and paid for by the colleges is not subject to the boycott. As stated for supervisions, College activity remains unaffected by UCU Industrial Action, and therefore you can continue to invigilate exams as normal.

I am due to deliver or attend training related to examination, is this covered by the MAB?

No, the MAB only covers activities related to setting, sitting and processing exams. If you are due to deliver or attend training related to examination, you should attend to this work as normal.

I am an international student on a Tier 4 Visa, can I take part in the MAB?

International students on Tier 4 Visas are allowed to take part in the MAB. Withdrawal of your labour in this way is completely allowed, as long as you continue to observe the visa requirements that relate to your role as a student.

I have already committed to marking and/or invigilating this term, can I still participate in the MAB?

Yes, many of us had already agreed to help out with marking and/or invigilating for our Departments this term, but this does not preclude us from taking part in the boycott. The majority of permanent University staff find themselves in the same position, but have voted overwhelmingly to take part in this action. 

I have already committed to marking practicals and/or examinations this term. Can I carry out the marking as normal but not submit the grades until after the MAB has been called off?

No, you should not carry out any marking during the MAB, even if you do not plan to submit the grades until after the MAB is over (also known as “mark and park”). All exam scripts are the legal property of the University, and you can therefore be compelled to submit those scripts before the end of the MAB.

Should I inform my Department that I am taking part in the MAB?

You are under no legal obligation to inform your Department of your intention to take part in the MAB, as the UCU will have already fulfilled any requirements to tell the employer that a particular action is taking place. In the event you are asked, you need only inform your department of action you have already taken or are currently taking.

What happens once the MAB is called off?

Once the MAB is called off, it is likely that marking and assessments delayed by the boycott will be rescheduled to ensure that students can receive their degrees or progress within them. This will include all PhD confirmation or completion vivas. This underlines the necessity for as many people to take part in the MAB as possible, to ensure it can be called off as soon as possible.

I will be financially disadvantaged by taking part in the MAB this term, is there help available to me?

We completely understand any concerns surrounding loss of income as a direct result of the MAB, and the UCU is clear about wanting to help as many people as it can to take part. If you are a member of the UCU, you will be eligible to claim money back from the Union’s Fighting Fund for a loss of earnings. Membership of the union for PhD students is also completely free, so please consider signing up now!

More information can be found about the Fighting Fund by clicking here.

I am not doing any work that falls within the MAB. How else can I help the Industrial Action?

Any support you can show for the UCU’s Industrial Action is highly appreciated, even if you have no invigilating or marking to boycott in the MAB. In particular, you can do these five things:

  • If you get offered any marking or assessment work during the boycott, don’t take it. This would be breaking the boycott.
  • Let your supervisors, lecturers, and/or demonstrators know your support for them.
  • Encourage your friends and colleagues to take part in the MAB.
  • Use the hashtag #ucuRISING to show your support online.
  • Donate to the UCU Fighting Fund.

UCU have produced a petition for PhD students and Early Career Researchers to sign to pledge not to break the MAB. You can read it here


For more general student FAQs about the MAB, including what the SU is doing to support you can be found here. On Friday April 28th there will be a Q&A with UCU members to answer any questions in a non-judgemental space. More information here. Our Student Advice Service is always available for any students in need of independent, impartial advice. 


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