Cambridge students’ discontent amidst UCU marking boycott

Students take action via an Open Letter against university refusal to engage through the UCEA

Students banded together to write an Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellors of the University of Cambridge which has gained significant exposure since the Regent House’s announcement on the 16th of May that special measures will not be introduced to alleviate the consequences of the UCU’s marking and assessment boycott.

Concerns are rising among students that they may be forced to graduate later than expected, which could have significant impacts on particularly international students whose visas are due to expire. As well as this, finalists whose grade remains majoritively based on their final year are not protected as a result of the boycott.

The university’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Bhaskar Vira attempted to quell any fears that students may have, asking worried international students to “please contact the International Student Office,” and has reported that the university has set up an “Exams Emergency Task Force” which is advising departments and faculties on actions to support students, whilst maintaining academic standards.”

Picketers at an UCU Strike at Michaelmas (Image credit: Felix Armstrong)

However, with the boycott “scheduled to last until the end of September,” students have been demanding that more active steps be taken in order to mitigate the effects the boycott may have. In an open letter circulated on the 14th of May, the student campaign #SettleTheDispute based in Cambridge asked for concrete actions to occur. The letter at the time of publishing has over 900 signatories.

The first of these actions is “that the Senior Administrative Team make a public request to the organisation which negotiates staff pay, the UCEA, that they resume negotiations with union representatives from the UCU” in a statement which “conveys the strength of feeling among students that this dispute must be urgently resolved.”

The second is simply asking for a statement from the University that “work will be marked in time for graduation, or in time to progress to the next year of study” undertaken by “the qualified staff who set the assessments and not by external providers.”

Rising discontent (Image credit: Screenshot via Facebook @2 Cam 2 Fess)

The letter actively calls out the Vice-Chancellors by stating that “we know that you do have the power to take a clear public stance in this dispute.” The claim that “it’s time to deliver that leadership” implies that the navigation of this matter presented thus far has not been adequate in diminishing students’ fears.

This is evident in a statement delivered by Bella Cross, a third year HisPol student who represents the SettletheDispute campaign in Cambridge. She claims that “Cambridge’s attempts to shirk responsibility from this disruption is an insult to injury. The VC can use his voice on the UCEA to get them to settle the dispute with UCU. Yet instead they are continuing to hold our futures hostage because they won’t fairly compensate academic staff for their labour.  We deserve to graduate, and staff deserve fair pay and conditions.”

Students urge others to take action (Image credit: Screenshot via Facebook @2 Cam 2 Fess)

Proof of these rising fears is found in the students that have flocked to social media sources to externalise these concerns, including Cross via Twitter (user @bellacross__) in an extended Thread about the matter, who states that “working and learning conditions are under attack” and also condemns the university for “persisting with punitive measures against staff involved in the boycott.”

While Prof. Vira suggests that students ought to “focus on revision and preparation” and to “submit all your work” because it “will be marked,” Cross raises in the same Twitter Thread that the vice-chancellor’s email was “framed” when really it speaks for the university’s “update on management failure and inaction.”

While Prof. Vira remains hopeful that universities and the UCU “will resume talks to bring the boycott to an end,” frustration is increasing and many students are urging others to either sign the open letter or are attempting to advise other students on how to proceed in such uncertain times. With the letter asking that the Vice-Chancellors release a statement to the UCEA on or by the 22nd of May, only time will tell whether tangible steps will be taken to protect students’ grades at this time.

The University of Cambridge and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor have been contacted for comment.

This is a live story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Featured Image Credit: Felix Armstrong