Students at universities in London are becoming increasingly unrestful as university marking boycotts approach their third month.
The halt on marking is nationwide and is the culmination of failed industrial negotiations between the University and College Union and the Universities & Colleges Employers Association.
Although the disputes are over staff pay, pensions and working conditions, the effects on students are becoming a greater pressure on universities.
While support for academic staff was initially very strong, opinions on the boycotts are changing as graduation and visa deadlines become more immediate concerns.
From the standpoint of UCEA, universities turning to a marking boycott as a last resort are attempting to target students. King’s College London however states that they are doing everything they can to avoid boycotts detrimentally affecting students.
Students entering the job market fear extra barriers to securing a job without the promise of graduating on time. This is particularly pressing for international students attracted to the UK by the two-year post-study work graduate visa. A master’s student at LSE worries that many of their classmates will be affected.
“Most students on student visas are afraid to voice their opinion as they feel that it may impact that future employment opportunities and a chance to get post-study work,” they said.
“Instead they gulp up their frustration and make the best of what all they have”
“They are scared that if they are seen acting against the university it may report them and affect their long stay opportunities. So instead they gulp up their frustration and make the best of what all they have.”
University solutions have led to further fears. KCL will use the marks from previous module assessments where staff continue to protest. This means that in principle graduation should go forward as planned, but some worry that hard work to improve on previous grades will be ignored.
“By communicating this to students, what incentive will students have to complete their dissertations?” questioned another student in response to KCL’s marking strategy.
KCL told The PIE News that the university is “considering the effects of the boycott on our international students and applicants”.
“[We] are proactively working with any students who require further support and as per UKVI guidelines,” a spokesperson added.
Strong student support still remains for the strikes, with much of student unrest directed towards university management for failing to compromise.
“I personally do not put the blame on the people on strike. They wanted a 5% rise in pay and got offered 3% with a 10% inflation rate,” said a master’s student from KCL irate with the institution’s management of the dispute.
Relying on provisional grades rather than responding to academic staff, he argued, “is just a sign that they do not care for their staff and they also do not care for their students”.
Some students however now blame academic staff and UCU. A UCL international student believes that the UCU stance is irresponsible and entitled.
“The salaries that lecturers are on are very high by South African standards. In South Africa strikes are often mine workers and taxi drivers – people who are in very different financial circumstances.
“I think that the universities have messaged this in a way to try and get students to support what they are doing when students are suffering from their actions. I don’t think it is fair, or honest.”
PhD students often bridge a gap between the role of student and teacher. This dual role is a point of personal conflict for PhDs involved in marking assessments. A UCL PhD student supports the boycotts, but is split between looking to the future and their financial situation now.
“I support the boycott because of my current payment”
“I support the boycott because of my current payment, and the prospects of an academic career as an early researcher do not look good. My university has threatened to cut a big proportion of my wage for my participation, even though marking amounts to a very small proportion of my duties,” they said.
The apparent lack of effectiveness of the boycott is a cause of their concern. “The university has found ways to reallocate the work of strikers, or to bypass marking procedures altogether,” they noted.
“This makes me feel very stressed about the future, as I begin to see how even the right to strike becomes less and less powerful.”
Another UCL PhD student complained that the university treated them detrimentally as if they were striking, despite choosing not to join the industrial action.
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