AFTER summer assessment strikes, staff at the University of St Andrews are to receive retrospective payment of withheld portions of their salaries before the next term begins.

As more than Scottish university staff plan to strike this coming autumn, employees at St Andrews may see more hopeful prospects for striking members, due to an administration announcement to pause salary deductions retrospectively.

The statement came in the heat of the University College Union (UCU) decision to continue strikes throughout the next university term. The Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB), a national call for university union members to refrain from marking which began in April, will continue until members of the UCU’s committee vote for it to end.

For striking staff at St Andrews, participation in the MAB is done with the knowledge that a portion of their pay will be deducted for an indefinite period.

Muireann O’Dwyer, a lecturer for the university’s School of International Relations, speaks openly on why staff strikes are necessary for the quality of future employment. When I spoke to the UCU committee member in May, she was focused on the belief the pay deductions were harsher than necessary: “It’s almost like bullying — but I think we’ll be able to stand up to it. It makes it all the more clear why we need to do what we’re doing.”

The springtime policy brought controversy among union members and students, who pointed out the disparity between time spent marking assessments and total pay deductions. Though St Andrews is now lifting salary deductions for the summer, it is not explicit that this move is a guaranteed step forward. “I think it’s a very welcome move,” O’Dwyer said.

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Both students and staff experience punitive action from strikes. O’Dwyer said: “Students often get caught in the crossfire.”

Sixty miles away, students in Edinburgh expressed upset at a lack of grades and official graduation for final year students. A “pay your workers” chant began during July graduation in response to 2000 students being left without a degree.

“The actions at Edinburgh showed a real anger among students,” O’Dwyer said. “There is similar anger in St Andrews, reflected in the support we receive from the Students’ Association, many student societies, and lots of individual students.”

Tom, a third-year English student, said: “I didn’t get any of my English grades,” he said. “I’m not angry with the teachers. I’m upset with the institutions that have failed to pay the teachers adequately. Going into my third year, we’ve been impacted by the strikes for the past two years and it’s made a difference in the quality of my education.”

As the MAB continues into another semester, the administration at St Andrew’s called for a retrospective pause to salary deductions. Those participating in strikes will be “re-imbursed for any deductions applied” between July 2023 and the end of August.

However, deductions for striking staff will continue in September, at 30% of their monthly salary.

“It seems like a temporary Band-Aid over the larger problem,” Tom said.

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According to the administration, although the strikes continue, two-thirds of participants returned to marking during the summer.

The decision to pay staff for their summer indicates an increasing openness in administration at the university. Just before that, the UCU voted nationwide to continue the strikes through September, when the union will reconvene.

To union members, the policy decision is met with positive feedback. “While the deductions that remain are still punitive and unfair, this is a significant shift from the employer,” the St Andrews UCU said on X (formerly Twitter). “And it is a direct result of the pressure generated by members.”

The decision comes amid changes to strike consequences nationwide. Some universities to continue pay deductions for MAB participators; others to put deductions on pause in hopes of a compromise with the UCU. However, as a new term begins in universities throughout Scotland, students will be left in the dark as to whether marking will continue in a reliable manner.

Staff, likewise, will be unsure where the University of St Andrews is in further striking disputes. “[Strikes] were UK-wide disputes, which couldn’t be resolved locally,” O’Dwyer says. “But when it comes to MAB deduction policies, this is very much a local issue.”