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The Marking Boycott – A step too far?

20 April 2023, the University and College Union (UCU) went ahead with its planned Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) that would see members withhold from marking student essays and exams, as part of their long-standing industrial dispute with university bodies across the country. Such a decision has caused major and continuous disruption to students in all years. Thankfully the UCU voted to end the marking boycott in the first week of September, but the negative effect of it is still lasting.

The perspective of a student caught up in this feud between employee and employer against their will

I am in favour, along with 70% of university students according to a poll by The Tab, for workers banding together to stand up to their employers through striking when they feel they are being let down in their role of employment. But I wanted to write this piece from the sole perspective of a student, who is paying for a university education and is caught up in this feud between employee and employer against their will.

I am a third year (finalist) student who has still yet to receive feedback and grades from three of my essays from my second year, one of which accounts for 70% of an entire module grade. June to October has just been an endless wait, filled with false promises from my department which at one point announced that marks would be sent out on 20 July, but I was in the unlucky cohort that got nothing.

There lies the issue that is most troubling, some of my peers have received feedback for the exact same modules that I completed last year because those staff members did not partake in the boycott. How on earth is that fair? I am going into my third year with no clue how I did on those assessed pieces of work whereas others do know. Where do I need to improve? Would it be more favourable for me to choose essays or exams as my assessment type for my third-year modules? Oh, and my second-year grades account for 40% of my final degree grade.

Whilst I must commend my department for making the threshold for moving into next year more lenient, it is a minor positive to the fusillade of negatives they and the university displayed, when handling this disruption.

It honestly feels like most of last year was a waste of time as I do not have a ‘result’ or ‘outcome’ from my studies

Students are customers paying for a service, which in Warwick’s case is a world-class education experience, but this service has become disrupted completely out of the control of the customer. Will students be compensated in any way? So far there has been nothing.

If we also consider the fact that the University would have a surplus of cash gained from not having to pay their lecturers who went on strike last academic year, it only is right that this money is distributed to students who have been disproportionately affected by the strikes and the marking boycott. We have not had the experience that we would have expected from the University.

As I still wait for my feedback and begin third year modules, it honestly feels like most of last year was a waste of time as I do not have a ‘result’ or ‘outcome’ from my studies. If you dedicate hours to studying and writing essays where you then have no idea of how you did it honestly leaves you in a horrible mood and I question whether it will continue to affect my performance on future assessments. If you were tasked with a job that you put so much time and energy in, to then not receive any feedback, ‘praise,’ or ‘reward,’ would you honestly put 100% into that task again?

The situation I am in is challenging, but it is nowhere near the despair that the previous year’s finalists experienced.

Imagine, you are an international student whose education was brought to a standstill due to the pandemic. You pay large fees to study abroad where the pandemic is still ongoing and online lectures are your only option. In your second year, things start to get better as the pandemic provisions are lifted, but then your final year is riddled with strikes, so you miss out on more teaching. The marking boycott has now also come into effect, and therefore you cannot officially get your degree. But it is fine, the university will give you a “certificate of completion” until those grades come through. It is not fine. The next thing you know, you are essentially being evicted from the UK as you no longer have a student visa, nor will you be able to receive a graduate visa permit to start work. All that time, money, and energy is wasted.

Please, affected students complain, complain, complain

There isn’t even the need to imagine this scenario, as this is the reality. Something similar did happen to an international student at the University of Edinburgh as reported by ITV News. I feel complete sympathy with last year’s finalists who barely had a full university experience but still had to pay their full share of tuition fees, so what can they do?

If any student feels let down by their university experience, complain. Universities, including Warwick, have extensive complaints processes that do get looked at and you will get a response. If you feel the response is inadequate you can then take this to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) where they provide a solution or settlement that they see fit.

So please, affected students complain, complain, complain. Just as the UCU members banded together to bring about MAB, we need to band together and send in complaints.

Finally, I hope the UCU and the Universities find a suitable deal where such disruption as this is no longer an option because their feud is biting the hand that feeds them.


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