Only 20 universities are going ahead with a proposed marking boycott from Monday, the University and College Union has announced.

In April, 41 branches of the UCU backed a marking and assessment boycott, but fewer than half of these are going ahead following interventions by branches and members.

The UCU Executive decided to allow universities to decide for themselves, resulting in just 20 undertaking the boycott this week.

Last week, Durham University pulled out of the boycott after its UCU branch negotiated a deal including a pay-out of up to £1,000 for every member of staff in the dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Its UCU announced on social media: “Durham has voted to accept the joint statement on USS pensions and the offer on our local four fights claim.

“This brings to an end industrial action under the current mandate. We will not be participating in the boycott commencing elsewhere on Monday.”

The threatened marking boycott has led some universities to put pressure on staff through the hiring of external staff or saying that they will dock pay for those who take part.

It has been reported that Queen Mary University of London is planning to hire external staff, from an Australian higher education consultancy, to mark papers.

At the universities of Leeds, Dundee and Sheffield, staff were told that 100% of their pay would be docked if they took part in the boycott, which includes not marking final exams and dissertations, potentially delaying students’ graduations from courses.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Our members choose to work in universities because they love working with and supporting students, and no staff member is taking this action lightly.

“But cuts to pensions, low pay, insecure contracts and exhausting workloads have pushed staff to breaking point. The marking boycott is a last resort for staff who feel like they have no other choice.

“The fault lies solely with university bosses who are choosing to let students suffer by refusing to deal with the issues that blight higher education. We urge vice-chancellors to use the sector’s huge financial reserves to resolve the dispute and avoid any further disruption.

“Any vice chancellor who is considering locking out staff participating in a lawful boycott needs to think again, this will only further poison relations between staff and management and could lead to further disruption.

“Likewise, any university threatening to bus in external workers to mark work they know nothing about needs to stop now or risk doing lasting damage to the value of its degrees.”