Final-year students to graduate with 'empty piece of paper'

UCU members are currently participating in a marking boycott as part of the ongoing nationwide dispute.

Students who were due to receive their degree classifications before their summer graduation ceremonies have been told they will be awarded unclassified qualifications due an ongoing marking boycott.

It comes amid a long dispute between members of the University and College Union (UCU) and university management.

UCU members are currently participating in a nationwide marking boycott as part of the ongoing nationwide dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions in the sector.

Some students from Strathclyde University and the University of Edinburgh received “provisional” unclassified awards on Monday.

Students, who wished to remain anonymous, told STV News that university management’s response to the marking boycott was “absolutely appalling” and the situation is causing “ enormous stress and unnecessary worry”.

Another added that “after spending four years of our lives” and tens of thousands of pounds “to say that this is a slap in the face is an understatement”.

Students told STV News that they have worries the provisional degrees will affect their futures.

A history and politics student from Strathclyde University said: “We had an idea something like this would happen but at first it was just a lot of people thinking graduation would be delayed. 

“We found out about the provisional degrees last month in an email which felt very ‘it’s not our fault, blame the strikers’. 

“I was originally trying to decide between a Masters and a graduate job but it’s just a bit up in the air. It’s a bit worrying cause there’s just no guarantees and a bit frustrating as well because we don’t know when any of this will get resolved.”

Another, who is a psychology student, added: “Through my own research, I found that due to strikes, I might not get my degree results until August. I have a few interviews over the next few weeks for graduate jobs, and l’m going to have to tell my interviewers that I don’t actually know what my degree results are at all, which I suspect will negatively affect me in securing a job after graduation.”

Final-year students also spoke about the lack of sense of achievement or closure that they felt as a result.

A Strathclyde psychology student told STV News: “Our degree from start to finish has been chaotic and isolating. At the end of our first year, we had strikes followed by two years of lockdown disruption. This is the first year I’ve actually got to know anyone on my course. 

“It’s so difficult to feel that sense of closure or achievement when our fourth year results are incomplete. I’m waiting on one result which might change my degree classification and I have no idea when I’ll find out.”

Another student said that they would be in a situation where they would graduate with a generalised degree, which was different to what they had studied on the programme.

“Most recently, there was an email sent out about four days ago now which indicated that students sitting with a provisional would be graduating with a generalised bachelor’s degree in humanities and social sciences rather than what they studied for four years, and it was only sorted out and explained that’s only what would appear on programmes in an email sent from our course coordinator after multiple emails were sent to him by students asking for clarification,” the student said.

“We’ve also been told that Strathclyde will discuss the situation with potential recruiters and explain situations to guarantee entry on Masters conditionals but it just feels very empty and meaningless as there’s just no guarantees.”

Management at the universities insist the delay is a result of the marking boycott, however the UCU say university management have failed to engage in talks to bring the dispute to an end.

A spokesperson for the University of Strathclyde said: “Due to industrial action by members of the UCU, it has not been possible to finalise the degree classifications for a small number of our students due to some staff withholding marks.  

“The university has awarded unclassified degrees to these students to enable them to graduate and celebrate their achievements with their peers. Affected students will receive their official degree classifications as soon as possible. 

“The university regrets the uncertainty that the marking boycott is causing.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson added: “Many of our final year students have received their degree results as expected today. Some students have received a provisional award and will receive their degree classification at a later date. For others, a decision regarding the outcome of their degree has been delayed owing to the marking and assessment boycott. We have contacted these students individually to advise them of next steps. We recognise the impact this is having on their lives and future plans and we share their frustration at being caught in the crossfire of this national dispute.

“Graduations will continue as planned. All students who have been awarded their degree, final or provisional, or who are awaiting a final decision on their degree outcome, will be able to participate in a ceremony. As in any year, those who have failed or not completed their final year for reasons not directly related to the marking and assessment boycott will not be able to participate in the graduation ceremony.”

The university added that its priority was to “ensure that any outstanding exams and assessments are marked in a timely manner while maintaining rigorous academic standards” in order to provide a final degree classification.

Mary Senior, UCU’s Scotland official said: “Students will rightly be upset at the delays and confusion around their qualifications, or that they’re graduating with unclassified degrees. The blame for this, and for disruption and delay to graduations, lies squarely with university principals and management. They could resolve this dispute if they wanted.

“Staff chose to work in universities because they want to teach and support students. The last thing they want to do is to boycott marking and assessments, but they have been left with no other option. University bosses have failed to address the real terms pay cut staff have endured since 2009, the unsafe workloads, pay inequality and precarious employment contracts. They are letting down both staff and students.

“Instead of trying to find ways to circumvent lawful industrial action and imposing punitive pay deductions, university principals should join those from Glasgow Caledonian, Cambridge, Sussex and Queen’s Belfast, and call on the employers’ association, UCEA, to get back to the negotiating table and resolve this dispute.” 

NUS Scotland president Ellie Gomersall called on affected students to contact their universities.

She said: “Many students work for months on their dissertations, intensively reading, learning and writing. They deserve to have all of their work marked and to graduate with a degree classification that accurately reflects the hard work they have put in.

“I urge all students who are rightfully disappointed with their university’s decision to write to their principals and demand that they get round the table and make an offer the UCU can accept so that all students can be satisfied that their degree reflects the extent of their hard work.”

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