Lecturer drags University of Nottingham for giving out ‘invented marks that devalue degrees’

‘If I were a student, I’d be in an uproar’

A University of Nottingham lecturer has claimed the university will be giving students “phoney marks” if the uni’s current plans to tackle the marking boycott goes ahead.

This comes after the university announced it would be awarding student degree classifications based on derived, or “part-for-whole”, marks based on previous academic performance rather than ever marking students’ final assessments.

When contacted by The Tab Nottingham, Dr Christopher Phelps, a lecturer in the Department of American and Canadian Studies and a member of the Nottingham UCU, said that by doing so the university is essentially “inventing marks” rendering the degrees given out as “worthless”.

On April 20th, the University and College Union (UCU) began a nationwide marking and assessment boycott.

The boycott, which has the potential to last until September under the current mandate, has led to concerns amongst final year students regarding whether their assessments will be marked this summer.

The university has said that final year students will still graduate this year, despite the impacts of the marking boycott, by being awarded a degree classification based on derived marks.

Students who wish to wait for their work to be marked face the risk of not being able to register for the following year of study whilst final year students will walk the graduation stage without knowing their classification and will not receive a certificate.

This method has led to criticism from Dr Phelps who said “the bind [students have been placed in] of choosing this phoney mark or facing a year off of study is unconscionable”. He also accused the university of having “bad priorities” and a “serious mismanagement” problem.

In full, Dr Christopher Phelps told The Tab Nottingham: “Invented marks: that’s what we really ought to be calling these ‘derived’ marks the university is coming up with.

“They’re not based on trained lecturers who are expert in their fields evaluating the actual work students have submitted, or indeed by anyone looking at the work submitted at all for the current term, rather by a formula based on performance in past semesters.

“Since they are invented, they are worthless, and they devalue the degree students are seeking. Some accrediting bodies have already said they won’t accept them.

“That the university places students in the bind of choosing this phoney mark or facing a year off of study is unconscionable. What the university really ought to be doing instead is negotiating with the union and rethinking its policy toward staff.
“When universities nationwide are affected by action of this kind by lecturers who love their students and devote their lives to teaching, it’s a very strong indication of serious mismanagement and bad priorities. Treating staff well is the solution.
“If I were a student, I’d be in an uproar.”

A University of Nottingham spokesperson told The Tab Nottingham: “It is important to stress that the majority of our students will be unaffected by the UCU marking and assessment boycott. However, we understand that students will be concerned by this action and apologise for any anxiety this causes.

“Maintaining the integrity of our degree awards and supporting every student to achieve the outcome they have worked so hard for are our absolute priorities. The university has published contingency regulations which outline the steps that we would take to mitigate the impact of the boycott on individual students, should it become necessary. 

“These regulations have been developed following intense scrutiny by academic staff and thorough consideration by relevant university committees, which also included student representatives, and have been approved by the Senate of the University.

“By using evidence of students’ academic performance over several years of study, we can make appropriate decisions, and any award made under the contingency regulations will be subject to the same high academic standards as awards made at any other time.

“The university will keep students informed throughout this period and has published detailed FAQs to help understand how the regulations may apply if they are used. Schools will advise students if they are affected by the marking and assessment boycott and make arrangements to support them.”

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