What the university marking boycott means for employers and graduates

Jun 15, 2023 | Home Featured, News, Sector & policy

2023’s graduating class could be hit by the current marking boycott. ISE’s Stephen Isherwood explains the hiring implications for employers and graduates.

In the ongoing dispute over pay and working conditions, the Universities and College Union (UCU) asked all their members to cease marking and assessment activities, effective from 20 April 2023. This is known as ‘action short of a strike’. The current mandate for action runs until October 2023.


How will graduates be affected?

Unlike like last year, where 43 campuses were affected, this year staff at 147 universities are taking action. FE College students should not be affected.

The impact on students and their grades is difficult to predict. Not all staff are UCU members and even those that are may not take part in the action. Different universities will take different steps.
Some institutions may find a way to award the degree based on work that has been or will be marked. But some students could graduate this year with a delay to their final degree classification.

For example, a university may make an award based on earlier attainment or wait for the work to be marked. A student who thinks they may have performed far better in this year’s exams than in previous years may, if given the option, choose to wait for those newest exams to be marked and the degree result calculated accordingly. This means they may only have a partial transcript.

For example, UCL has committed to students that degree classifications based on partial marks will not be downgraded, but can be upgraded if marks are received after the award has been issued.
It’s highly unlikely that an award based on previous years’ work will be lower than their eventual performance as most students benefit from ‘exit velocity’ – they’ve learned how to learn by their final year.


How will employers be impacted?

Not all employers make offers conditional on a student’s final degree classification, but those that do may have to make contingency plans.

This may include basing offers on existing grades, amending offer terms and conditions, continuing as planned and assessing the situation when the degree is finally awarded.

Both students who are and are not impacted need to be considered. For this reason we recommend that recruiters consider the difficult situation a student may have been placed in through no fault of their own and the relevant employment regulations.

We also recommend that employers review the details of offered students to see who may be affected and contact the relevant institution’s career service if there is a concern.


Are international student visas affected?

To apply for the Graduate Visa, the Home Office requires confirmation that an international student graduating in the UK has successfully completed their studies. This is provided by the sponsoring institution. This may result in an international student being unable to apply for the Graduate Visa route where they have yet to receive a degree award.

Employers who rely on the Graduate Visa to employ a recent graduate may experience delays. Employers who employ an international student via the Skilled Worker Visa may also face delays if the degree has not been awarded.

WonkHE has reported that the Home Office will be flexible for students affected by the boycott. We advise employers to pay close attention to an international student’s visa situation and monitor Home Office guidance.

You can also read the employers guide to recruiting international students, for details on the visa routes.


What about degree apprenticeships?

Students on degree apprenticeships (DA) may also be affected. Depending upon the type of programme, the final degree may be awarded by an institution, but if the end-point-assessment (EPA) does not take place then the Institute of Apprenticeship requirements may not be met.

If the DA is an integrated programme, it includes an EPA that marks both the end of the apprenticeship and degree programme.

The EPA is credit bearing and the student must pass this to be awarded both the degree and the apprenticeship. This means students and employers may have to wait until the EPA is carried out before the DA can be awarded.

If the DA is a non-integrated programme, the EPA assessment is separate to the degree so the degree could be awarded without the apprenticeship if the university’s regulations allow. However non-completion of the EPA means students will not achieve the apprenticeship.

DAs that are arranged with FE colleges are not likely to be affected as they are not taking part in the strike action.
Some degrees have professional accreditation. It is possible that some accrediting bodies will not recognise part or all of a degree based on prior or associated performance/marks.


What is the strike about?

The action is part of a long-running dispute between universities as employers and both academic and support staff.

Last year’s dispute concerned pensions, proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). Whilst that dispute is still ongoing, the current action relates to broader dispute concerning pay and conditions.


What is the ISE’s advice for students?

The ISE is making sure employers are aware of the industrial action. We don’t expect the boycott to impact the offers made or on-boarding process in most cases.

If students have any questions, we recommend they make their future employer aware of their situation and seek their advice.

Students should check the arrangements put in place by their university and be aware of the marking and awarding options. Students can also get support from their university careers team.


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