S’porean students in UK universities hit by marking boycott

It is scheduled to continue until the end of September, and involves institutions such as Cambridge and Durham University.

Amelia Teng

Amelia Teng

The Straits Times


Staff at 145 universities in Britain, including Cambridge, have been refusing to mark students’ work, in a dispute over pay and working conditions. PHOTO: REUTERS

July 11, 2023

SINGAPORE – A marking boycott in Britain that left tens of thousands of university students in limbo without their final grades has also affected Singaporeans.

Since late April, staff at 145 universities in Britain who are members of the University and College Union have been refusing to mark students’ work in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

The boycott is scheduled to continue until the end of September, and involves institutions such as Cambridge University and Durham University.

This means affected final-year and master’s students may not receive their degree with the final classification, and other students may not have the required marks to progress to further study.

Ms Angela Ng, 22, received her degree certificate – a master of arts in computing science and music – in June during her graduation ceremony at the University of Glasgow without the final classification because of unmarked work.

“The university had mentioned assessments will be marked when the dispute is resolved,” she said.

“I was fortunate to have accepted a job offer in Singapore about a year ago, with the condition of graduating. My employer has been understanding of the situation, and following discussions with regard to letters of proof that my heads of subject areas could provide, my employer is letting me continue with the job,” said Ms Ng.

Mr Ryan Lee, 23, a second-year student in the University of Warwick reading philosophy, politics and economics, said his results for assessments in the past few months have not been released.

“Our university normally has a 20-working-day turnaround for marks for each assessment to come out, and because of the boycott, the deadline could not be met,” he said.

Mr Lee, who is also president of the United Kingdom-Singapore Students’ Council (UKSSC), said there is some uncertainty among students, especially for those in their final year who are due to graduate in July.

“The UKSSC hopes that the University and College Union and universities come to an agreement that is sustainable and ensures both parties are satisfied. Strike action is disruptive to our learning and creates uncertainty, so we hope that a mutually beneficial agreement is arrived at that is agreeable to all stakeholders,” he said.

He added that different universities have provided their own plans, such as employing alternative graders hired specifically to grade assignments.

“Others have talked about utilising a projection of the students’ final mark based on previous assessments, and then substituting the final mark with an updated one once the assessments have been marked after the boycott, with the guarantee that the actual final mark can only be an increase from the projected final mark,” he said.

University of Warwick student Ryan Lee has not received results for his assessments in the past few months. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RYAN LEE

Ms Sue-Ann Tan, 29, a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science who is due to graduate in December, said one of her modules has been marked, but she has not received updates on assignments for another two modules that she submitted in early May.

“From what I understand, the rest might not be marked at all in the meantime until the union makes progress in its negotiations, which places us in a very uncertain situation,” she said.

Ms Ng said she empathises with her lecturers.

“My music supervisor shared that he has been working with the university since 2007 and was only given full employment in 2018, and a proper contract this year. I really do value my lecturers, so I think fair employment should be granted.”

She also said that walking across the stage at the graduation ceremony without a classification helped her reflect on what the degree is about.

“Whether it is attending university during the pandemic, going through the housing crisis in Britain, transport strikes and more, or this final boycott, the graduation felt more of a celebration of resilience than a celebration of academic achievements,” she said.

Ms Angela Ng received her degree certificate in June during her graduation ceremony at the University of Glasgow without the final classification because of unmarked work. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALEKSANDR

The universities said they are taking steps to support students.

In a statement, the University of Edinburgh said most of its students will receive a degree with a classification. “In other cases, we have provided a provisional award, or we have not yet been able to provide an outcome.

“Our priority is to ensure that any outstanding assessments are marked in a timely manner so that we can provide a full and final degree classification for all students who have completed their programme this year.

“In the meantime, 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.”

The British government has also confirmed that international students can apply to extend their student visa permission while they wait for their results, it added.

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