The University and College Union (UCU) announced that certain members of University of York staff will be participating in a marking boycott as part of the on-going industrial action. This is the first time that current students at the University are facing disruption to their marks, as previous industrial action has resulted in a loss of teaching and action short of a strike.
However, due to their rights to re-main anonymous, the University cannot say “how many staff will be taking part, or to what extent, or for how long.” In turn, students have been left feeling anxious and frustrated about the boycott, especially how it will impact their academic progression at university and, for many, their graduation.
According to the University of York’s Industrial Action page, the marking boycott essentially means “academic staff refuse to carry out marking and assessment duties aspart of industrial action”. The University also states “This marking and assessment boycott covers all forms of marking and assessment processes that contribute to what’s called ‘summative assessment' and so students should still receive feedback on this form of assessment.
The marking and assessment boycott, which began on Thursday 20 April 2023, is expected to proceed until “disputes are settled, or UCU calls off the boycott, or at the end of the industrial action ballot mandate (usually six months after the industrial action ballot closes)”.
Nouse asked students how they feel about the marking and assessment boycott. Third-year English Literature student Amaani Rami explained, “The marking boycott seems to be at a standstill, at least from the student’s point of view– we haven’t heard anything in weeks now and the last we heard was that we likely won’t receive all our marks back – for one of my modules definitely”. Amaani continued, “This means for many, graduation will likely take place without a final result being awarded, and many especially in my department [English] are being left wondering when they will actually receive these results.”
Third-year students have also been keen to highlight that their experience of university was also impacted by Covid-19. Theatre student Olly Hilton, who is in his third year, told Nouse they were “really angry” about the fact they “haven’t [had] a term of university that hasn’t been massively impacted by strikes or Covid”. They proceeded to comment “I’ve written a 12,000 word play and a 12,000 word dissertation and it’s pretty likely neither will get marked”.
Megan Hurcombe, an English and Linguistics student, also informed Nouse “It seems to be unfair on students and lecturers. I don’t think what the university is doing to lecturers boycotting is fair, nor what they are doing to students who have experienced strikes all year and even started their course during Covid”.
Despite student’s concerns regarding whether or not they will graduate, the University has announced “graduation ceremonies will go ahead as planned”. However, students may have to attend graduation ceremonies without having received their marks. The anxiety for current students hoping to continue their studies at York rests in the uncertainty of whether or not they will be able to progress into the next academic year, especially if they do not achieve the necessary credits.
Second-year Theatre undergraduate Amber Wright noted the marking and assessment boycott has resulted in them having to wait “months” to receive results and that “the lack of feedback has made it difficult to know how to improve and hindered our progression. Students have also received results at different times which has caused a lot of uncertainty”.
Similarly, Niamh Cooper, also a second-year Theatre student, expressed, “I haven’t had either of my written assignments from spring marked whereas some others on my course have, so it’s really frustrating to be waiting anxiously for your results even longer than the 25 day marking period”.
The University of York has explained that students who have “at least two-thirds” of their marks for the year (80 credits) will mean the University will decide whether or not these students will be able to progress into the next academic year.
Moreover, students who have not attained “at least 40 marks” for any of their modules, will need to resit them. For final-year undergraduate students, there is a requirement “for at least 60 credits of marked material for final year”. If this is not met, the University has stated they will not be able to award final year students with a degree until they “have enough marks to inform that award”. An explanation of these circumstances will be provided by the University, so that students can inform future employers or academic institutions ahead of time.
Nevertheless, students will still be allowed to attend graduation and those who are not being awarded their degree will be kept anonymous. In an email sent on 18 April 2023, Vice-Chancellor Charlie Jeffery addressed students stating “My main message to you is to continue as normal to complete your scheduled teaching, labs, assessments and exams. We will be assigning alternative, well-qualified markers if necessary”.
Finalising the email, Charlie wrote “I will not stop fighting for an overall resolution, and for an early end to the marking and assessment Boycott”. Students have since been emailed by their departments with additional updates regarding their marks being awarded and various time-frames for when marks might be awarded if not affected by the boycott.
The University of York has reminded students of the importance of keeping on top of their assessments and coursework, encouraging them to prepare “for exams as normal”. Additionally, theUniversity has emphasised that all students will be kept “informed about any changes to the boycott and any updates about action”.
Commenting on the marking boycott, Pierrick Roger, YUSU President, said that “As you might know,YUSU held another Member’s ballot on the question of the UCU boycott. Unfortunately, only a handful of students voted in the ballot. With no clear mandate from students on the question, we are focusing all of our time and energy on ensuring the best possible policies are decided on at the University to support students’ progression and graduation.
"Our aim is a ‘no detriment’ policy that locks in obtained marks. Once we know the policy decided by the University, we will aim to communicate this in a student-friendly way so that as many students as possible understand their own situation and can plan their year ahead as soon as possible.”
If students wish to make a com-plaint about the boycott, information on how to do so can be found on both the University’s page on the complaint’s procedure and on YUSU’sIndustrial Action Guidance page. Students can visit the Industrial Action page on the University of York website for more information.
A University spokesperson said: “We recognise the boycott will be causing concern and we have been updating students regularly through student newsletters and our dedicated webpages about the University’s response, but we are not sorry to hear that some students have not received feedback on their specific modules.
“We’ve recently updated our undergraduates with more information about our approach, outlining how they will progress to the next stage of their studies, or how we are supporting students to graduate and liaise with future employers. Postgraduate taught information will follow very soon. Our approach includes using existing grades we already have for students and, where we don’t have enough information to make a decision, students can still progress with the caveat that their results are still pending. We have also published more information for finalists, about graduation, and job advice and support with potential employers.”