Universities: Strikes

Department for Education written question – answered at on 19 July 2023.

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Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

To ask His Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the strikes relating to marking of university exams and essays on students awaiting end of year grades.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The department understands that the vast majority of students will remain unaffected by the industrial action and, in most cases, will receive their full results on time and progress and/or graduate as normal. The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has published research findings which surveyed 49% of higher education (HE) institutions in the New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff. These institutions provided updated feedback on the impact of the marking and assessment boycott on students at their institutions:

  • Over 70% of HE institutions said that ‘less than 2% of students’ will be unable to graduate this summer due to the boycott.
  • A further 20% were ‘unsure’ of the number.
  • 4% of HE institutions said ‘between 2% and 9% of students’ would be impacted.

A link to these research findings can be found here: https://www.ucea.ac.uk/news-releases/23june23/.

On 22 June 2023, my right hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, met with Universities UK (UUK), the Russell Group and UCEA to better understand the impact that this boycott will have on students and the mitigating actions their members are taking to protect students’ interests.

The Minister also wrote to the Russell Group and UUK, encouraging them to continue to do everything within their powers to protect the interests of students during this phase of industrial action. On 27 June 2023, the Minister met with a number of HE representative groups to discuss the marking and assessment boycott, including the mitigating actions HE institutions are taking to protect their students’ interests.

HE institutions are working on minimising the disruption to their students in a variety of ways, including reallocating marking to other staff members and hiring external markers. Moreover, many HE institutions can award degrees when they have enough evidence of a student’s prior attainment to do so. Others will be able to assign provisional grades to students to allow them to progress and, once all papers have been marked, degree classifications will either remain as provisionally assigned or be uplifted to reflect the student’s achievements.

The government believes students should be at the heart of the HE system. This is why the Office for Students (OfS) has been set up, to regulate the HE sector in England, protect student rights and ensure the sector is delivering real value for money. The OfS has published guidance to students on their rights during industrial action, available at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/for-students/student-rights-and-welfare/student-guide-to-industrial-action/.

On 12 June 2023, the OfS wrote to institutions affected by the boycott to reiterate its expectations in relation to its conditions of registration. The OfS will continue to monitor this ongoing situation through their normal regulatory mechanisms.

Students who have complaints about their HE experience should contact their provider in the first instance. Students in England and Wales may also raise a complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which was set up to provide an alternative to the courts and is free of charge to students. Further information is available at: https://www.oiahe.org.uk/.

The department will continue to engage with the HE sector over the coming weeks to help better understand the boycott’s impact on students and the mitigating actions HE institutions are taking to protect their students’ interests.

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