To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps her Department is taking to support students who have not received a degree mark due to strike action by university staff; and if she will take steps to compensate those students affected by the time taken to provide a mark.
Unlike some other education sectors where the government has taken part in negotiations with trade unions, universities are autonomous. They are therefore responsible for the pay and pension provision of their staff.
The University and College Union (UCU) announced the end to the marking and assessment boycott on 6 September 2023. While the government plays no formal role in such disputes, the department has been deeply concerned about the impact of the marking and assessment boycott on students. It is unacceptable that students, many of whom have already suffered significant disruption to their studies over recent years, face further disruption and uncertainty. This disruption is particularly damaging to those students who have graduated and looking to enter the jobs market or progress to further study. The department has made clear that whatever the rights and wrongs of the current dispute, action that damages students' prospects is the wrong thing to do.
The majority of students have been unaffected by the industrial action and, in most cases, have received their full results on time, and progressed or graduated as normal. However, the department appreciates that, at some higher education (HE) providers, the impact of the boycott has been more significant.
This 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 have also published guidance to students on their rights during industrial action and will continue to monitor this ongoing situation through their normal regulatory mechanisms. Further information can be found here: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/.
I held discussions with the Russell Group, Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to better understand the impact on students and the mitigating actions their members have taken to minimise disruption. I also wrote to the Russell Group and Universities UK, encouraging them to continue to do everything within their powers to protect the interests of students during this phase of industrial action. On 11 August, I wrote to the UCEA and the UCU urging them both to resume negotiations to bring an end to industrial action.
Universities have worked to reduce the impact on students in a variety of ways, including reallocating marking to other staff members and hiring external markers. Moreover, many universities have awarded degrees when they have enough evidence of a student’s prior attainment to do so. Others have assigned provisional grades to students to allow them to progress, and, once all papers have been marked, most institutions will award degree classifications that either remain as provisionally assigned or are uplifted to reflect the student’s achievements.
Students who have complaints about their HE experience should contact their institution in the first instance. Students in England and Wales may also raise a complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which was set up to provide an alternative to the courts and is free of charge to students. Depending on the complaint, the OIA may recommend that compensation be awarded. Whilst compensating students for disruption is the responsibility of HE institutions, the OIA expects institutions to comply with their recommendations. Further information on the OIA is available at: https://www.oiahe.org.uk.