Leeds Uni claims marking boycott has almost ‘no impact’ despite cancelling exams last minute

400 first year politics students were told on Wednesday night their exam the next day was cancelled

Leeds University has said it believes most students “will experience no impact” during the ongoing marking and assessment boycott despite cancelling some exams as little as 17 hours before they were due to start due to the strike.

In a punchy statement attempting to downplay the influence of the UCU strike, the university argued less than five per cent of staff took part in strike action in February and March and maintained “graduations and progression [to the next year of study] will be taking place as planned”.

Leeds students have faced widespread confusion since the marking boycott began on 20th April. The university had sent just one email to all students about what the marking boycott would mean for them prior to yesterday afternoon.

Although Leeds has promised students graduations won’t be affected, it has not made clear how it will do this. Across the country, some universities have admitted they will pass students with missing marks in a bid to make sure graduations take place as planned.

In Bristol and Edinburgh this means dissertations students have been working on for months could account for nothing as both universities have unveiled plans which show they can graduate students with missing credits.

A senior member of Leeds UCU warned Leeds University not to take the same step adding employers must feel “confident in the reliability of degree results”.

Today, a poll of 448 Leeds students by The Leeds Tab found 95 per cent said they were confused as to what is happening in relation to their assessments during the marking boycott.

Earlier this week, up to 400 first year politics students were told the night before their exam it had been cancelled.

In an email sent to students on Wednesday at 5:45pm, comparative politics module manager, Dr Kris Dunn, wrote to tell students expecting to take the exam the following day at 2pm, it had been cancelled due to his position as a member of the UCU.

“I’m not entirely sure what this means for the exam or for your marks on this module,” he said.

“This is something that will have to be sorted out once the Marking and Assessment Boycott is resolved. I wish I were able to give more concrete information but I’m unaware of how the School or the University will choose to handle this at the moment.

“As soon as something is sorted out, I’m sure you’ll be notified (and if/when I’m made aware, I’ll let you know immediately).”

A screenshot of an email sent to comparative politics students on Wednesday evening

At the time of publishing, students have not been told if or when it will be rescheduled. The two hour exam – which students will have spent weeks revising for – is crucial because it makes up 60 per cent of their unit score.

Other students have also expressed their frustration to The Leeds Tab.

One student said: “It’s basically baffled me. I don’t know if I’m getting marks or not and how it’s going to affect next year.”

Others said they felt the communication from the university has been particularly poor. While individual departments have been emailing students about marking boycott, these emails have varied in details between subjects meaning some students feel they know more than others.

“It hasn’t been addressed on any of the uni’s social media accounts which feels a bit strange as I thought they posted a fair bit about the ‘normal’ strike action that happened earlier in the year.”

A second year economics student told The Leeds Tab ultimately this negotiating needs to be done “in a way which doesn’t treat students as bargaining chips by threatening to jeopardise our futures”.

Leeds UCU has hit back at the university’s claim “most students will experience no impact” during the marking boycott. Treasurer Dr Alaric Hall said while UCU members “regretted” the impact for students, it was clear “industrial action has considerable impact on our students generally, and for some sections of the student body the impact is acute”.

The associate professor added: “If, as is possible, the University hopes to avoid the marking and assessment boycott having an impact on most students by simply awarding degrees without a complete set of marks, I would comment that it’s very important for students and employers to be confident in the reliability of degree results, especially for a cohort whose A-level grades were awarded in the unusual circumstances of Covid.

“I very much hope that Leeds anticipates avoiding negative effects on students by encouraging swift and successful negotiations between the University and College Union and the University and College Employers’ Association.”

A spokesperson for the University of Leeds said: “We appreciate the marking and assessment boycott is causing concern for students and are doing all that we can to minimise the impact of industrial action on them.

“Less than five per cent of all staff took part in industrial action in February and March and we expect that most students will experience no impact.  We will be closely monitoring the position throughout the assessment period and graduations and progression will be taking place as planned.

“The University has enhanced its assessment processes since last year which will also make a positive difference.

“We are regularly sharing updates, and students with specific concerns can talk to their School or personal tutor, read our Q&As relating to industrial action, or contact our Student Information Service with any queries relating to student experience.”