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The Open University branch of the University and College Union

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Information for Associate Lecturers

Industrial action - September 2023

Our branch has voted to take part in 5 days of industrial action, 25 - 29 September 2023, view news item. Our advice for Associate lecturers is below. 

Industrial action advice for Associate Lecturer members 2023

We call on you to take action during the strike day periods and not to mark assignments, run tutorials, attend OU meetings, answer OU emails, letters or telephone calls etc. 

OU management will be deducting 1/365 of your individual salary for every day of strike action taken by you. Given the fact that the work of ALs is not as clear cut as the work of most other staff, UCU approached management to agree a suitable way forward and to get clarification on the position.  

Firstly, management will be determining the rate of pay by taking the amount that any individual AL is paid for their annual FTE and dividing that by 365. This will create a daily rate which will be used for the basis of the deduction for each strike day.  

As ALs are flexible over the times that they do the majority of their work, our guidance is that you have to make an assessment of whether you would have been working, as an AL, on each of the strike days. As with any other part time member of staff this means that your work will coincide with strike days on some occasions and not on others. Only declare, as strike days, those days which you would have worked, had there been no strike.  

There are also specific issues that relate to TMAs and we have accepted that, where possible, ALs may inform management in advance of their plans for strike action in relation to not marking TMAs. Whilst this is not our normal practice, our advice is, in this instance, that you may do so, if you wish to hand back your TMAs and not mark them. We are aware that our AL members are all in very different positions regarding the amount of work that they may have over the following weeks and so you should determine how you wish to handle the matter according to your workload. The specific guidance is as follows. 

TMA marking  

  1. If you are unable to complete your TMA marking, because of the strike, then you should notify your manager, preferably in advance, to tell them that you will not be marking, because you will be on strike and specify the TMAs that will need to be reallocated. Whether this is all of your TMAs, or just some of them will depend on how many of the days that you had planned to mark, fall on strike days. Ask yourself how many TMAs you would have marked each day, if any, and let management know if you need to hand any back.   
    Line managers will then try to reallocate the TMAs to other ALs and will allocate time for it within those ALs’ FTE.  
  2. If after the strike is over, line managers have been unable to reallocate the TMA marking work, then they may approach you, to ask whether you would be prepared to do the work, and your strike deductions should then be reversed but you should clarify that this will be the case prior to taking back any TMAs. You are not required to accept the work and we would advise you to be very careful of your workload and stress levels, especially if you already have more work to do in that period. The University has not agreed to reset the deadline to allow 10 days from when you take any marking back and you should be aware of that in making your decision. Our understanding is that they intend to add 5 days to the original deadline for your marking, but talk to your line manager and get agreement on how many further days you will need before you agree to take marking back.  

Please note that under no circumstances should you agree to “defer” your TMA marking in advance of the strike action. If you are on strike and will not be doing the work then that should be clear. If you are prepared later to take back that work then you should not receive pay deductions for doing so.  


Where you would have been teaching a tutorial on a strike day, you should not reschedule this teaching. If asked to deliver a cover tutorial, after the strike dates, to replace a colleague’s cancelled tutorial, you should not do this either. Refusing to reschedule teaching is part of our ongoing Action Short of a Strike and the employer has been notified accordingly. You are not legally obliged to inform managers before the tutorial, however you are legally obliged to answer correctly, should you be asked for details of your strike action, afterwards. Please inform students who have signed up to the tutorial; we recommend that you do this by your last working day before striking. You may also wish to inform any colleagues with whom you may be sharing the tutorial.   

If you would normally upload or circulate materials for a tutorial that has been cancelled due to strike action then please do not do so. This is covered by our Action Short of a Strike.  
The nature of the AL contract makes advice in these situations very complex and no doubt there are situations that we have not covered. Because you are responsible for when you work, it means that you have a greater responsibility to determine which days you will be on strike and we cannot give you an absolute answer for every situation, as you all work in differing patterns. Please consult the union at ucu@open.ac.uk with any specific questions.   

Marking and assessment boycott started on 20 April and ended on 6 September 2023

Marking and Assessment boycott page

Information for OU students about the MAB

Student comments and two emails sent to the Vice Chancellor

Student email to her AL: At last my 3 years of university study has come to an end. I want to thank you for your support. I think i just saw you on the news and wanted to say well done for standing up for what's right. I have totally supported you throughout industrial action and will continue to do so. Thanks again and wishing you all the best.

An Associate Lecturer member's student said she would be honoured for us to quote her views on the Marking and assessment boycott: 

"It must be so hard for you guys! You do all the hard work in supporting us throughout the module and then don't get to see the end result! But you 110% have my backing (and many others) in what you are doing, you work so hard!"

"Good morning Vice Chancellor,

I am just contacting yourself regarding the marking boycotts proposed by the unions at the OU. I’m requesting that the OU can reach resolution through negotiations in this matter, regarding pay, workload, and the various issues presented from the union.

As a third year BA (Hons) student, my life is difficult enough trying to study an honours degree while looking after three children. The part I really look forward to is when I have worked so hard and get my assignment marks back, and I have achieved the mark I have aimed for. It does not seem fair that after all this time studying, the most important marks, the final year, are going to be delayed. This will also have huge consequence on those of us that are applying to get onto masters or post graduate courses.

I’ve always recommended the OU and held it in the highest regard, however I must admit the reputation is starting to fall if the OU is not looking after their staff, and as a result their students.

I implore you to re-negotiate with the union, so us students, who without us the Open University would not sustain itself, can get the marks that we have worked so hard for and deserve."

Student email 2

"I just wanted you to know that I'm totally supportive of your decision to strike. I work for a large public sector organisation, and have seen at first hand the difficult decisions faced by my colleagues over whether to strike.  I'm sure this is not a decision that lecturers would have taken lightly. I know that there will be disruption to the courses I'm taking as a result, but if that results in better and more secure working conditions and improved recruitment and retention of University staff then that can only be of benefit in the long run, and I think that is a price worth paying."

"Dear Professor Blackman

I am writing to express my full support for the strikes organised by UCU at the Open University. As a member of the community of my tutors, and a current student of the OU, I fully understand the importance of fair treatment for all members of the academic community.

The concerns raised by the UCU are critical and it is essential that they are addressed in a fair and satisfactory manner. Having completed two modules, and attended many online and F2F tutorials, I believe that the staff at the university work tirelessly to provide a high-quality education for students. Both my tutors have been available, very supportive, and their TMA feedback has been invaluable to my learning.  Their welfare should be a priority for the University, and it is disappointing that they are now suffering the stress of being unable to properly support their students in providing feedback (not actual marks) during the marking boycott. This is unnecessary stress for both the students and staff and no doubt damaging to the reputation of the OU.

I hope that you take their concerns seriously, and work quickly towards a solution that is satisfactory for all parties involved. With mutual respect and open dialogue, I’m sure that a fair agreement can be reached that benefits staff and students. Thank you for taking the time to read my email, and I look forward to hearing the positive steps you are taking to address the concerns of the UCU and their OU members."


Three quotes from OU Students received December 2022

I fully support the UCU strike as lecturers are vitally important to the future of university education and deserve decent working conditions. A good lecturer can be the difference between a student passing and failing a degree. Lecturers cannot be expected to give their all to their role if they are underpaid and undervalued. (OU Student)

I completely understand that you are away from the office for a few days coming up and therefore I don’t expect a reply straight away from you. Good for you for standing up for your rights! (OU Student)

If I could, I'd stand there with you. (Carer)