Members of the University and College Union (UCU) began a marking boycott on 20th April, in a dispute over pay and working conditions. Staff are refusing to mark assessments and exams. Students have been affected to different extents, depending on their university, but many will not have their final grades this summer. Impact’s Hannah Walton-Hughes reports.
The action is being taken at 145 institutions. It is estimated that up to half a million graduations could be affected by it.
They will continue with the action until they receive what they deem an ‘improved offer’
Whilst not all students will be affected, a survey sent out by the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) showed that at over half of universities some students will suffer.
The union has stated that they will continue with the action until they receive what they deem an ‘improved offer.’
Eighty-three universities are striking over working conditions and pay, 5 more over pensions, and sixty-two further universities over both issues.
Different strategies have been adopted by the universities in order to ‘minimise’ the disruption to their students.
Uncertainty about when the results will be released
The University of Nottingham is one of the institutions allowing students to progress to their next stage of learning, by accepting either part-for-whole grades (grades from previous assessments), or predicted grades.
Students will then be able to choose whether to accept their given marks and graduate as normal, or wait for their work to be marked. However, the latter option means that there is uncertainty about when the results will be released, and also whether the grade will go up or down from the derived classification.
Graduation will go ahead for final years, whether or not they choose to accept their given mark, but those who don’t will not receive their certificate until the marking boycott has been resolved.
This may also prove to be a difficult choice for students, as they might not have the grades in time to enroll/progress onto their next year of study. International students will also have to take into consideration how delaying their marks could affect their right to study in the U.K.
Grants/loans for next year may not be accessible.
Students from Nottingham University spoke to Impact about their experience.
A student going into her final year, studying English and History, accepted her grade, but felt she was in effect “blackmailed and forced” into it, as it would otherwise have affected her “personal finances” for next year.
She described how she had worked very hard on a 3-000 word essay that was 100% of a boycott-affected module, and spent less time on other assessments that were worth less. “As a result, I did less well on them.”
“What a collosal waste of time, effort and mental strain”
She said she supports the lecturers, but criticised the communication from the university. “Not getting feedback” is one of the most frustrating aspects, according to this student, leaving her feeling “unprepared” for one of her modules next year.
Dom, a student who has just graduated, reflected on the “awful luck” his year group have had with education.
He stated that he has been “lucky” with his derived grade, “but what a colossal waste of time, effort and mental strain.”
Cora-Laine Moynihan is a graduate who has chosen to wait to receive her grades. One of her modules was impacted by the boycott. Cora told us that she was angry at the lecturers at first but, after more research, her anger “shifted to the University of Nottingham’s management”. “My complaints were dismissed by default responses from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office saying I was only part of a minority.”
Cora believes that “UON’s management has shown over the last few years that they do not care for their students and staff”. She has created an open letter with another student, demanding “more transparency from the University regarding the boycott.”
MA History student, Rebecca Starkie, also blames “the higher powers within the university rather than the lecturers and wider staff.” “The effects of things such as casualisation are so evidently visible when you’re a student”.
Rebecca is currently waiting for a large amount of her work to be marked, due to the boycott. She said, “in some ways a marking boycott feels better as we can still speak to tutors, but in other ways it feels more personal when some people have their work marked and not others in the same module, depending on whether the person marking your work is striking or not.”
The UCU have expressed their gratitude to students who have spoken out in support of their cause.
Some universities have not given students the option of derived marks.
Cambridge University has said that students will not be able to graduate until they receive their marks. Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 students at the University of Edinburgh will graduate without knowing what their grades are.
UCEA have described talks […] as ‘constructive, but with ‘significant ground to cover’
The Unions want ‘action’ to end temporary contracts and zero-hour contracts, and expect a pay rise ‘worth either the RPI measure of inflation +2% or 12%’, depending on which is higher.
However, 56% of the UCU members rejected it, stating that it was still a real-terms pay cut.
The separate pension dispute is expected to be resolved, according to the UCU.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency and the UCEA average, the median salary of a lecturer is £38,700 a year. This increases once you become a Senior/Principal lecturer. Professors are paid a median of £80,000, but UCEA says that many are in fact below £70,000. The average for a research/teaching assistant is £31,900.
Despite this, the union have claimed that 1/3 of academic staff are only paid by the hour, are on temporary contracts, and do not have long enough paid time to prepare for their classes. They also say that the holiday leave staff are entitled to depends heavily on how many hours they work.
Many staff across universities claim their salary is less than the figures quoted above. Pay varies massively across institutions.
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