As a final year, I’m sick of my future being used as a bargaining chip between unis and staff

I’ve poured months of my life into my dissertation and now it could all be for nothing


For the third time this academic year alone, my academic studies have been derailed by UCU industrial action. As a third year student, surely this is disruptive enough – but this is omitting the emotional and psychological turmoil myself and the rest of my academic year are facing. This is just the surface.

Since the news of the UCU marking boycott last month and in the wake of University of Edinburgh students’ dissertations potentially being left unmarked, students like myself have been wracked with anxiety. And that’s omitting students at Cambridge who are at risk of having their graduation delayed; we’re united in the same disappointment.

Nobody knows what is happening and the daily struggle of not knowing whether I should spend my time chasing answers that don’t seem to exist, or pouring my energy into my assignments and dissertation that might not ever be as much as glanced at weighs on my subconscious.

To be told that months of work and energy may just be disregarded is soul destroying

Having changed onto a different course after a year of study and starting again at stage one, I constantly find myself thinking: What could have been? Which is the lesser of two evils? To have graduated after three years of study impacted by Covid or to graduate under the threat of a nationwide marking boycott? Well, I got both.

But being diagnosed with a medical problem in the first semester of third year is where a lot of my anxieties lie. Hospital appointments, surgery and even my symptoms have tampered with studying not just this year, but the last two. Because of this, my dissertation has become my lifeline, my sole focus and my chance to produce work to my fullest potential. Not only have I poured months of my life into it like millions of other final year students across the country, but I’m relying on it, both for my final degree certification but also for myself. I’ve spent weeks and months working to catch up. So predicted grades based on past assignments just aren’t an option for me.

I’m again reminded that I can only count on myself

I’ve spoken to and been taught by some of the most tenacious staff while studying for my undergraduate, but the boycott has proved to me that to a university, we are all dispensable. I cannot afford to rely on staff members, UCU or Chris Day for equal treatment or for even an actual chance of being able to complete my studies. I feel like a pawn, my future used for bartering between corporations but instead for their own benefit, and with complete disregard for mine. This cruel game has changed my mindset and my future – I no longer want to play.

I’ve spoken to and been taught by some of the most tenacious staff while studying for my undergraduate, but the boycott has proved to me that to a university, we are all dispensable. I cannot afford to rely on staff members, UCU or Chris Day for equal treatment or for even an actual chance of being able to complete my studies. I feel like a pawn, my future used for bartering between corporations but instead for their own benefit, and with complete disregard for mine. This cruel game has changed my mindset and my future – I no longer want to play.

The stress and anxiety this boycott has induced has primarily reminded me that happiness doesn’t necessarily equate to achievements, to qualifications, to careers, and in that sense, I am grateful. I’ve come to realise that there is more to life than these things and that at the end of the day, the only opinion that matters is my own.

But more patently, I am angry. I am angry for the other me – the other me who wanted to study a Master’s, who saw so much potential in the world and who wanted to learn and soak up all of that knowledge. I’m unsure whether further education will benefit me, or will only further destroy my passion for learning.

I don’t know exactly where my £37,000 + debt has gone, but not a penny seems to have gone toward giving us clarity and ensuring deserving students a fair shot at achieving their potential.

I’ve spent time down on the picket lines, speaking with staff who are striking, and I can sympathise. Although, having completed my undergraduate throughout a national pandemic and three subsequent lockdowns, a year of online learning, and to now be told my final assignments and dissertation may not even be glanced at is wholly soul crushing. I deserve both the university experience and standards of teaching I paid for.

What could I have done differently?

Naturally, it would be expected to wonder what I could have done differently. Whether I should have saved my money, whether my choice of university might have resulted in me being a part of different negotiations, whether the chancellor of my uni might wake up in a better mood to make decisions than the Chancellor at the University of Edinburgh did. Arguably, such wondering is pointless because it will never change the outcome of my future – but I have no answers. To pass the time I find myself toying with my past decisions, like playing a harrowing game of Bandersnatch. How will my future play out?

While punishing myself for the past finds me in a blind alley, voicing these truths does not. Everybody struggles and everyone has hardships, but it’s what we do with these experiences that carve out who we are as people. Despite the control over my final university degree grade being taken out of my hands, I define my future.

My work is worth more than a glance. My time deserves more than a predicted grade. And my future is not my university’s bargaining chip. Myself and the rest of my academic year are disappointed, but not surprised. We demand better.

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