Students could be hit by a marking boycott if an increasingly bitter pay dispute is not resolved in the next month.

University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic staff at Falmouth University and the University of Exeter, has announced it has approved its “ultimate sanction” of a marking boycott to be implemented, if employers still refuse to thrash out a deal over pay.

It would mean academic staff would not mark or give feedback on students’ work, leaving many unable to graduate this summer.

Third year English student, Hannah Brassil said: “The university I have a conditional offer to do a PGCE at requires me to have given them my results by the end of July. So if they go through with the boycott I’m going to have to wait around for a year and waste time and money re-applying to something I should have been able to do in the first place.”

She added: “I think there are other ways the staff could be protesting for new wages…it’s a disservice to the students to affect their futures so radically.”

UCU has not enforced a marking boycott since 2006 and said it hoped the employers would sit down and work out a pay deal in the coming weeks to avoid widespread disruption.

Rob Gawthrop, UCU branch chairman for Falmouth members and course co-ordinator for its master’s degree in fine art, said: “We care about education and are concerned about higher education and what the government is doing.

“To continually undercut the pay of staff is to the detriment of students while they are having to pay more and more in fees.”

UCU

Some students are already angry about cancelled classes and missed seminars due to strike action earlier this year and feel they will suffer from the actions of staff.

Grace Bayley, first year student said: “It is absolutely ridiculous. How do we deserve this?

“We have chosen to continue our education and if our work is going to be discarded to one side, why should we bother?”

UCU, which represents about 150 members out of approximately 250 staff at the universities, said a marking boycott could be avoided if the Universities and Colleges Employers Association agreed to negotiations.

It claimed the employers have refused to engage in any meaningful talks over pay, despite six strikes since October 2013.

Staff have been offered a pay rise of 1 per cent, which they claimed would leave them with a real-terms pay cut of 13 per cent since 2009. Opponents argue that lecturers already benefit from above average salaries and generous holiday entitlement while many others in the public and private sector have had wages frozen over the past three years.

A statement from Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union (FXU), said: “Further to the announcement made by UCU on the 17th February outlining their intentions to start a marking boycott, we have been contacted by a number of concerned students.

“Such action, aimed directly at our members, is one that we are unable to support and we urge all parties to find a quick settlement to this dispute.”

Fact file

• University lecturers are paid on a graded scale and earn between £30,424 and £44,607 depending on experience, while department head salaries start at £54,826.

• Academic staff were given a £150 pay rise last year and a 1.5% pay rise in 2012. Staff claim that they have suffered a real-terms pay cut of 13% since 2009.

• According to the Office of National Statistics, the average gross income in the South West in 2013 was £26, 239.