Students have had a rough deal over the past years. They’ve had their degrees interrupted by Covid and teaching strikes, they’re set to graduate into an economic crisis, and they’re saddled with record amounts of debt which they’ll repay earlier and for longer. So for many, the proposed ‘marking boycott’ might feel like the last straw.
In April, the University and College Union, which represents academics and university support staff, announced that they planned to stop ‘all summative marking and associated assessment activities/duties’, including ‘assessment-related work such as exam invigilation and the processing of marks’. This decision has left students in limbo, with no idea whether their work will be marked and when they’ll be able to graduate.
Yesterday students at Cambridge received an email from the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education saying that proposals to ‘introduce exceptional powers to help mitigate the impacts of the boycott’ have been voted down. This means most students will see significant delays in marking, and will graduate later than they hoped. For many, marking won’t begin until the boycott’s close at the end of September when the UCU’s mandate for industrial action expires. The university can only promise ‘to make every effort to get work marked’ with very limited provision for what this might look like.
For university finalists, this decision is the latest episode in a long series of disruptions. In 2019, A-Level exams were cancelled due to Covid. In order to protect the elderly, schools were closed and years of education were dramatically curtailed. The result: 44.8% of sixth formers received an A or A*, completely devaluing the top marks for those that worked hardest.
Upon arriving at university, this cohort has found itself repeatedly cast as society’s sacrificial lamb. Since 2019, Cambridge has not seen a single term without significant disruption to teaching. Students across the country have been locked up in halls, in some cases literally,