What the marking boycott means for employers and graduates

May 17, 2022 | Sector & policy

Universities will soon be hit by a marking boycott. ISE’s Stephen Isherwood explains the hiring implications for employers and graduates.  

In the ongoing dispute over pensions and working conditions, strike action by the Universities and College Union (UCU) has now been extended to include marking.

Starting from 23 May, it is known as action short of a strike as the staff fulfil the other aspects of their contract.

Students on 43 campuses could be affected. FE colleges are not expected to be affected. The current strike action is due to continue until October 2022.

How will graduates 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.

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 without a final degree classification.

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 the offer terms and conditions, continuing as planned and assessing the situation when the degree is finally awarded.

Both the students who are impacted 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 for more details.

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.

What is the strike about?

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

The dispute is about proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the USS is the principal pension scheme provided by UK universities.

The strike is also about working conditions: pay, casualisation, workload, and pay equality. They are know as the four fights.

What advice are the ISE and AGCAS giving to students and employers?

For Students: Employers are aware of the upcoming industrial action and don’t expect it to impact the offer making or on boarding process. If students have any questions, we recommend they make their future employer aware of the situation and seek their advice. Students can also get support from their university careers team.

For employers: Around 40 UK universities are continuing to experience industrial action. Action Short of a Strike, such as marking boycotts, and up to 10 days of potential strike action could impact on the timeframe for the issuing of results this summer. The impact will vary from campus to campus. If employers or students with job or internship offers have questions or concerns, they can seek advice from the careers team at the relevant university. The list of universities affected can be found here.

Read more insight and advice from Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of ISE

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