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Graduations under threat?

Image credit: University of Exeter
Image credit: University of Exeter

University decline to comment on any plans to ensure students graduate as threat of UCU marking boycott intensifies

The University of Exeter have refused to confirm if there are any plans in place to combat the marking boycott that has been announced for this summer.

When asked by Exeposé if there were any plans for emergency measures to ensure that students’ work was still marked in the event of a boycott, the University did not respond.

University and College Union (UCU) have confirmed that a marking boycott will be enacted from 28 April, which would result in students’ dissertations and final exams not being marked, which could in itself result in students not being able to properly graduate. The boycott was announced after UCU claimed that employers have refused to return to pay negotiations.

There have been six UCU walkouts since October, with significant disruption being caused to classes and seminars.

The Exeter branch of UCU say on their website that the current pay offer “will result in a further decline in living standards for staff in Higher Education – staff now are 13 per cent worse off than staff on the same pay grade five years ago as a result of repeated below-inflation pay offers”. They also indicate a belief that “the Higher Education sector is sitting on vast reserves that it could choose to release to improve staff pay”. They suggest that the recently reported 8.1 per cent pay increase that Vice Chancellors have received (a pay rise which Exeposé understands that Steve Smith, Exeter’s Vice-Chancellor, has not taken) undermines the idea that widely held talk of “sharing the pain” of education cuts is inaccurate.

UCU’s website also cites statistics which indicate that industrial action has had proven results in terms of securing increased pay for academics. In addition, a lengthy article critiquing the University’s recent and intended expansion claims that “staff are increasingly alienated by a culture of hierarchalism, distrust/hostility towards criticism of ‘management’ and growing differentials of both pay and status, without transparency about the bases of any of these differentials”. Furthermore, they denounce what they perceived to be the University’s use of “meaningless” performance management models to measure staff performance, as well as demanding that a policy of “enhancing social norms – including norms of dissent and debate – rather than managerial sanctions” is implemented.

Students are, understandably, increasingly agitated at the prospect of potentially not graduating, with many taking to Twitter to voice their displeasure. Elia Shipton (@EliaJayne), a third year student, tweeted: “Think @UniofExeter need to sort out these strikes. Uni degrees being ultimately ruined by these disruptions”.

A final year student, whose work may be directly affected by striking markers, told Exeposé: “In addition to the other pressures of final year, the last thing students should be worrying about is whether or not academics will actually be marking their dissertation.”

She added: “I am very worried that my degree is at risk, and feel that my last term at Exeter could be blighted by these strikes”.

The NUS have added their full support to the strikers, with their National Executive Committee voting unanimously to support staff, laying the blame for the proposed strike squarely with management. They criticise the “belligerence” shown by university managements thus far, and call the fact that students may not graduate or progress a “disgrace”, as well as stating their belief that “management will attempt to drive a wedge between students and staff in order to break the strike”.

Hannah Barton, Guild President, commented: “The Students’ Guild is working with the University to ensure that any impact of a marking boycott on students, and graduating students in particular, is minimised. We continue to meet with UCU and senior University management to encourage a productive dialogue that will bring this dispute to a satisfactory resolution for all parties. Over the coming weeks the Guild will be working to raise students’ awareness of the deeper issues underlying the recent industrial action”.

Owen Keating, News Editor

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