Why students across the UK fear they'll leave university without final grades

University and College Union (UCU) members at 145 universities across the UK have been staging a boycott on marking and assessment. Credit: PA

University students across the UK fear they will not be able to graduate this summer due to a nationwide lecturer strike, while some institutions have already handed out provisional 'unclassified' degrees in lieu of final grades.

University and College Union (UCU) members at 145 universities across the UK have been staging a boycott on marking and assessment as part of an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions.

Students have expressed uncertainty and frustration - one youngster at the University of Edinburgh said he would be walking across the graduation stage "with an empty piece of paper", blaming the university and government for the situation.

Another told ITV News she was unsure how to apply for jobs after finishing university without a degree.

So why are lecturers striking, how wide is the impact and when will the issue be resolved?

Why aren't academics marking work?

Members of the UCU engaging in the marking boycott have demanded:

  • Higher pay

  • Secure contracts

  • An end to pay gaps

  • A more "survivable" workload

The boycott began on April 20 and covers "all summative marking and associated assessment activities/duties". It also involves a step back from exam invigilation and the processing of marks.

What impact is the boycott having on students?

Some students from Strathclyde University and the University of Edinburgh received 'provisional' unclassified degrees in place of a final grade on Monday.

In a statement, Edinburgh University said "being caught in the crossfire" of a "national dispute" meant a minority of its students had been awarded the provisional qualification.

Edinburgh student Ollie Lewis wrote on Twitter: "I’ll be walking across the graduation stage with an empty piece of paper. No result.

"If any VC or government minister ever tells you they care about students again, please politely tell them where to go. This is a grotesque situation."

Both Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities said students with provisional degrees would receive a final degree classification as soon as possible.

At Queen's University Belfast, 759 students also face graduating without receiving their final degree result this summer. They would still be able to graduate but the final classification of the degree would be pending.

Durham University has conceded that "a significant number" of its students will experience delays in getting their final degree.

All final-year students have been invited to graduation ceremonies this summer, but students who have not received a final degree at the time of the event will be offered the opportunity to attend another ceremony later on in the year.

Meanwhile, Cambridge University students told ITV News they don't even know if they'll graduate this summer.

"I'm stuck in limbo," Lucy Atkin, who's studying philosophy, said.

"I've got my exams starting a week today and I'm finding myself really unmotivated to do any work because there's so much uncertainty."

Will impacted final-year students be able to get jobs over the coming months?

A key source of worry for many students is that they will struggle to gain employment for as long as their work remains unmarked.

Ms Atkin said: "The job market is terrible. So I'm going to be at home without anything to show for three years, unsure of how I go about applying for jobs if I don't have a degree."

In an effort to address this concern, the University of Edinburgh told its students: “Affected students can request a letter of completion of studies, which can be provided to employers or other institutions to clarify what marks they have received so far and the courses for which marks are still pending."

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How long will the boycott go on for?

UCU says the stand-off will continue until universities "table a renewed offer on pay and working conditions".

But Bhaskar Vira, pro vice chancellor for education at Cambridge University, said the boycott could last until the end of September "when UCU’s current mandate for industrial action expires".

The UCU warned that “a national degree scandal” could occur if a resolution is not found and has called on the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to return to the negotiating table.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the UCEA called on the UCU to “carefully consider students and members” at its annual Congress in Glasgow last month, adding that it “looks to be a last chance for an agreed solution to return to the table”.