Pandemic impacts on my A-levels followed by marking boycott shadowing my degree

According to universities, this year’s graduations will resemble previous years, but there’s a significant issue: as a student, there isn’t much to rejoice about. The ongoing marking and assessment boycott across 145 British universities means that, like many other graduating students, I will be leaving without a formal degree classification.

The class of 2023, who experienced GCSE reforms in 2018 and A-level cancellations in 2020, now face the culmination of a disheartening educational journey.

This predicament is a direct and predictable outcome of the ongoing deadlock in negotiations between the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the University and College Union (UCU) regarding fair pay and working conditions.

Final-year exams have been canceled in many universities nationwide, leading to delays in graduation for some students, such as those at Queen’s University Belfast whose work remains unmarked. Ongoing strikes by staff are also disrupting university open days at Bristol, Durham, and Westminster.

At Leeds University, staff have voted for an indefinite strike as management decided to deduct 100% of striking members’ pay, despite marking being a minor aspect of their overall workload.

In light of the marking boycott, universities like UCL, Durham, and Edinburgh have indicated their intention to award degrees to students once a minimum threshold of marks has been obtained.

According to the proposed system, if a student is initially awarded an interim degree of a 2-1 but later receives a 2-2 in reality, the higher grade of 2-1 will be maintained. Keele University is also planning to grant degrees even if certain modules are only partially marked.

I believe that by prioritizing the concerns of academic staff over academic standards, these measures undermine the value of a degree in a highly competitive job market.

While universities assure that all work will eventually be marked, there is a possibility of a re-ballot during the summer. If the ballot is successful, the marking and assessment boycott will be extended until negotiations take place and a resolution is reached.

International students who need a degree to renew their visas are facing uncertainty. Accredited degrees, like physics and chemistry, are at risk, and professional bodies suggest that they may not be considered valid if certain portions of the work remain unmarked.

Rather than urging the UCEA to resume negotiations and prevent such consequences, universities are actively exploring various alternative strategies.

Cambridge, for instance, is forming an “emergency exam taskforce.” In certain Durham faculties, individuals unfamiliar with the material are said to be grading students’ work, and there are claims that they are even altering marks previously assigned by module leaders before the boycott, although the university vehemently denies these allegations.

A vice-chancellor reportedly marks history of art assignments in a different institution.

The current crisis is a direct outcome of a sector plagued by exploitation and inadequate working conditions. Over the past decade, academic staff have experienced a significant decline in real-terms wages, amounting to a 20% cut.

Meanwhile, university management continues to prioritize the enrichment of a select group of staff members, with nearly half of the country’s vice-chancellors earning salaries exceeding £300,000, all at the expense of others.

I believe that the UK is teetering on the edge of a nationwide degree scandal, with university management displaying inconsistent commitment to academic standards and no government intervention in sight.

Unfortunately, it is the current cohort of students who will bear the consequences of this situation.

Kimi Chaddah is a student at Durham University and a writer specializing in education and politics.

Note: The headline and subheading of this article have been updated to accurately reflect the situation at Durham University. While negotiations are ongoing, the level of engagement from university management may vary.

Furthermore, not all marks need to be received before a final degree can be awarded. A comment from Durham University denying the involvement of inexperienced markers has also been included.



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By Ryan

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