Industrial action taken by the UCU is impacting the marking of some students’ final exams at the University of Oxford, meaning some graduates currently have no degree classifications.
The marking boycott is “action short of a strike” within the dispute over pay and conditions for academics and support staff, which began in April after consultation with members.
In June, the University promised that the “overwhelming majority” of exams would go ahead, expecting that most results would be out “on schedule”. However, there could be exceptions preventing graduation where “a substantial amount” of their work was not marked in time.
University guidance on the boycott was updated in late June, explaining that where students have “provisional or declared awards” they can attend degree ceremonies, but with insufficient marks they would “be invited to re-book [their] graduation ceremony”.
In communications to PPE finalists seen by The Oxford Student, the administrator expressed that there were “too many marks missing for [their] degree[s] to be classified at this stage”. Explaining that the UCU mandate for industrial action ends on the 30th September, remaining results should be returned as soon as possible after this date.
Kelsey Trevett, a third-year PPE student, stated that they had been awarded a Declared to Deserve Honours (DDH) degree. They explained that this is “an acknowledgement that [they] have passed the degree – though some of [their] cohort lack even this assurance – but that [they] have currently received insufficient marks to receive a degree classification”.
Trevett also stated that they were in “solidarity with striking UCU members” and remarked on being “furious” at the University, which Trevett argued has “failed to negotiate with UCU and to grant them the most fundamental rights of fair pay and decent working conditions”. They added that “if [the University] were to put their staff and students above profits, this could be resolved tomorrow”.
On concerns for graduates with jobs or further study dependent on results, university guidance allows for departments “to provide [students] with a document outlining the situation and summarising confirmed marks and pending assessments”.
They also clarified that decision-makers in these situations would be “well aware of the impact of the industrial action”, thus were also “likely to be sympathetic”.
Andrew Wang, another third-year PPE student, told The Oxford Student that the delay on classification “risks making [him] miss application deadlines and other opportunities that only really come around once a year”. Wang added that he believed “a letter explaining [their] situation… is just not enough for certain employers or certification programs”.
Wang said he had “planned to spend a year teaching”, for which he cannot “get certified with only partial scores”. For his exams in particular, the classification is missing only one mark which he called “particularly enraging”.
A spokesperson commented to The Oxford Student that the University “[recognises their] colleagues’ right to take industrial action”, but also “[regrets] the impact the UCU’s marking and assessment boycott is having on some students”. They have thus “been working to minimise disruption”, by taking steps to “ensure students are not disadvantaged by delays in the marking of examinations and assessments”.
They set out that the “overwhelming majority of examinations and assessments have taken place as planned”, and they have measures “to ensure that all assessments are marked as soon as possible”. Where there are delays, “steps are being put in place to support students’ progression to further study or jobs”.
UCU representative Mary Senior welcomed the return to negotiations as employers needed “to address the disruption we have seen in the university sector”, calling it “scandalous that students have been graduating with empty scrolls”.
Across the UK, it is estimated that more than half a million graduations are being impacted. The University of Cambridge expressed that students could not graduate until all their work was marked, while many University of Edinburgh students will graduate without knowing their final mark.