26 JUNE 2023 | INVESTIGATIONS
With the UCU’s marking boycott continuing nationally through the coming months, thousands of students are set to leave university with no grades to show for their studies.
As tensions rise and media coverage of the strikes is seemingly on the increase, both university staff and students are demanding answers over pay and conditions – and final year results – respectively.
144 institutions are currently affected, but the impact of the University and College Union’s nation-wide marking and assessment boycott (MAB) is being felt differently across the UK.
Where some striking lecturers have had their pay deducted by half as they refuse to mark students’ work, others have had it cut completely by 100 percent. And although some students have been offered little consolation other than an apology, others have reportedly been offered compensation to make up for the strikes.
What seems clear from the students who spoke to Wolves in our exclusive last week is that they stand in solidarity with their tutors against their universities. Despite the fact that thousands of students across the UK will not graduate with a final degree classification – but rather a “participation trophy” as many have slammed it – the anger seems instead to be more directed at the universities themselves, rather than those on strike.
At the very least, the impact of the boycott is that most students have racked up £50,000 in debt to receive nothing material at the end of it. At most, post-university plans will be severely affected, owing to graduate jobs requiring minimum grades – and for international students, there is the threat of being forced to leave the UK.
One foreign student told Wolves last week that four years of study at Edinburgh University cost her up to £100,000. With her student visa set to end in September, her post-graduate plans have been derailed.
Whilst striking staff at Edinburgh have had their pay cut by 50 percent, other universities have taken a harsher approach. Brighton University has reportedly reduced pay by 100 percent for those participating in the boycott, according Mark Abel, Chair of Brighton’s UCU Co-ordinating Committee. Wolves understands that this move will only embolden staff across the country, rather than deter them from future industrial action.
Elsewhere, however, some are taking what seems to be a more pragmatic approach the boycotts, rather than outright cutting pay. On 23 June, Cardiff University’s Vice-Chancellor, Colin Riordan, wrote to staff offering somewhat of a compromise.
Acknowledging that the strikes are “particularly unfair for a cohort who have already experienced so much disruption over the previous years”, Mr Riordan said: “I want to confirm that we will not withold pay for any action taken in April, May or June 2023 if colleagues currently participating in a marking and assessment boycott confirm to their Head of School by end of Monday 26 June 2023 that all assessments are fully marked and submitted to the School Office by Monday 3 July [and] you submit any outstanding resit exam papers and assessment briefs by Friday 14 July”.
He added that colleagues who fail to do this will be assumed to be involved in the boycotts and that this amounts to a breach of contract, meaning pay will be witheld.
But how are students being compensated? Some universities have already taken the chance to write to their students to express “disappointment” at the ongoing situation, as did Edinburgh University. But students are aggrieved and feel they are entitled to some form of compensation for the thousands of pounds spent on their education with nothing to show for it. As Wolves currently understands it, many institutions are not offering anything.
At the University of Nottingham, students have been asked to agree to their work never being marked. Instead, they will receive grades derived from previous academic performance – “part-for-whole” – rather than having their final assessments marked. But if students decide to reject their derived mark and instead choose to wait for their assessments to be graded they may not be able to progress to their next year of study – they also won’t know when they could even receive these grades.
Manchester University’s Leftist Action group has reported via Twitter that the university is planning to offer students a “£500 voucher and a letter to future employers to any student who is unable to graduate due to the UCU’s marking and assessment boycott”.
Although we are yet to confirm this, the student group said: “This is [an] utterly insulting attempt to mitigate the strike which chunts both students and striking staff.
“We demand that the university does all in its power to meet the UCU’s demands and offers a tuition fee refund to any student who does not get their degree.”
One Manchester University student told Wolves: “The university hasn’t actually told us anything about their plan, so I’m not 100 percent sure if it’s true,” adding that she will be “fuming” if it is.
We have contacted the university to verify the claim, however it refused to comment on whether it was true. Instead, a spokesperson said: “We expect that most students will not be affected by the marking and assessment boycott.
“We do not yet have the final numbers of those impacted as our Boards of Examiners are currently sitting.
“We will contact students directly at the earliest opportunity if they have been affected and offer them support.”
The spokesperson added that the university is working to “mitigate the damaging impact” of the boycotts.
The UCU’s marking and assessment boycott is a nationally developing story and Wolves will continue to bring you the developments as they come.