‘This is getting a bit out of hand’: London students on marking boycotts

Students at five unis have not been having their work and exams graded by participating staff


Marking boycotts have recently hit five London unis to top off a year of strikes. Students’ patience seems to be running thin as they grasp the possibility of not graduating with this newest action.

recent Instagram poll by The Tab found that 72 per cent of students no longer support the industrial actions after boycotts were announced. Before this, 63 per cent of students supported the striking lecturers.

Many London students have been uniquely impacted by these nationwide disruptions; some have had their boycott hit more than a month earlier than everyone else’s, while others are dealing with the possibility of having their diss marked by Australian consultancy workers.

The London Tab reached out to them for their thoughts on the current situation.

‘Will they use google translate to mark my Spanish exam?’

The UCU branch at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) recently claimed the uni management is “considering using external staff” for marking to offset damages during the boycott, and students have a lot to say about it.

A language undergrad at QMUL felt silly that “all their stress, tears, and sleepless nights over coursework and exams are for an institution that cares more about union-busting than their own student’s education.”

They told the London Tab: “I just wish that for once QM would consider students’ needs over their own apparent need to screw over staff.

“It’s not even like staff are asking for heaven and earth, just fairer working conditions that would improve our student experience. Paying £9k a year only for our hard work to be palmed off to some private consultants is ridiculous.

“Will they use google translate to mark my Spanish exam? Quite frankly, this is a joke, and so is my uni,” they said.

Another QMUL drama student thought the uni’s alleged decision to source external markers is not only “totally disgraceful” but “stupid.”

They asked: “Why pay extra for a third party to do the staff’s work when you already have qualified professionals on your payroll to do that work?

They went on about how they’re “horrified at the idea that someone would grade their performance as though they’re writing a blog entry.

“We do an incredible amount of work and research for our performance projects; it’s revolting to think that we’d be marked by someone who can’t appreciate that properly,” they said.

It feels like ‘students are just collateral damage that the staff seems okay with’

Even though graduating students are hit the hardest, marking boycotts also impact non-finalists.

A first year student at the University of Westminster is frustrated that their results will be delayed in addition to having most of their lectures “cancelled throughout both the semesters” because of the strikes.

They told The London Tab: “My friends and I spent our first year stalking UCU’s Instagram page for any possible strikes we should be aware of. To be honest, this is getting a bit out of hand.

“As a person of colour, I completely get the struggles. I get how work conditions can differ for someone from a different background. But making the students suffer is not gonna do shit. I am an international student, and I’m paying almost £15,000 for my education and future. This isn’t a small amount in any way.

“I wish there was a different approach to this problem because students are just collateral damage that the staff seems okay with,” they said.

For Sophie, another QMUL student, the marking boycott also disrupts her plans for next year.

“Now I’m in the position that I am hopefully going on a year abroad next year, and my place is not guaranteed until all my grades are released and submitted to the host university,” she said.

Because of this, she thinks the boycott is “really damaging to students” even though she understands its reasons.

A SOAS student agrees with her, even though the uni and its UCU branch reached a “mutually agreed position” to call off a marking boycott. They said: “I’m a SOAS student, so I’m used to strikes being a part of the culture, but I’m not sure if I support this particular part of the strike because it’s going to affect students significantly.

“It can be very damaging for those who need degree certification by a certain point (e.g. those who want to work abroad), but I do understand why they’re striking,” they said.

There seems to be a general feeling of stress and worry for students affected by marking boycotts, even if most said they understand why these actions are happening. We can only hope the current standstill between unis and staff unions resolves soon as more than 10,000 students’ education, graduation, and careers hang in the balance.

In response, a QMUL spokesperson told The London Tab: “We have been clear from the outset of this national industrial action that our first priority is to protect our students’ education and experience, and to uphold academic quality and standards. Industrial action has so far affected only a very small number of our teaching programmes; less than two per cent of our staff have so far taken strike action.

“We will continue to use, where required, a range of measures to mitigate any impacts from the continuing five-year national industrial action and to protect our students’ education. Any student concerned about the impact of this industrial action should contact their School or Institute in the first instance.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Our members choose to work in universities because they love working with and supporting students, and no staff member is taking this action lightly. But cuts to pensions, low pay, insecure contracts and exhausting workloads have pushed staff to breaking point.

“The marking boycott is a last resort for staff who feel like they have no other choice. The fault lies solely with university bosses who are choosing to let students suffer by refusing to deal with the issues that blight higher education.

“We urge vice-chancellors to use the sector’s huge financial reserves to resolve the dispute and avoid any further disruption.”

If you are experiencing stress or need academic support, your department or the student support and wellbeing team at your uni should be able to help. If not, other resources include Anxiety UK and Mind.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Russell Group uni is ‘considering using external staff’ for marking during staff boycott

Students at five London unis might not graduate as marking boycotts go ahead on Monday

• Three out of four students no longer support striking lecturers after marking boycott