‘No idea what’s happening’: York students confused and frustrated by uni marking boycott

One student said that communication from the uni made it seem like ‘it’s all my fault’

The ongoing marking and assessment boycott is beginning to cause problems for university students across the country, whose progression and graduation’s are being affected due to unmarked work. Whilst there has, rightfully, been a lot of focus on the impact of this action on final year students who, for some, are graduating without degrees, the MAB is also causing confusion and frustration for returning students.

At the University of York, students who have less than 80 credits marked are being told that the board of examiners have “not yet been able to make a full and formal decision” on their progression to the next stage of their programme. Because of this, some students are being told that they can start the next year of their study on a “provisional basis”, understanding that there would be a personal risk in continuing study without having their full set of marks back yet.

The York Tab has spoken to students impacted, many of whom have been left frustrated and confused by the uni’s policy and the standard of communication and support available. One student said: “the wording of the emails makes this all seem like it’s my fault”.

Students are being permitted to continue study on a ‘provisional basis’

As per the university’s policy, returning students who have less than 80 credits marked have been receiving emails telling them that the Board of Examiners “has not yet been able to make a full and formal decision” on their progression.

The email continues: “we appreciate your need to make plans for the next academic year and we don’t want you to have to wait for your definite outcome if you don’t want to.

“You will be permitted to start the next stage of study on a provisional basis. This means that you can come back in September and continue your studies while we mark any outstanding work from this year.”

The emails have then been suggesting the level of risk associated with progressing for each student, generally warning all students that if marks come back over the next academic year that are below the passing grade, they will have to resit or compensate for those modules; if unsuccessful here students may be asked to leave uni.

In this situation, the board of examiners said that there would be “a financial impact” as students would be “responsible for tuition fees and expenses for the period of study when you will have been studying against your provisional progression”.

Second year English student, Sarika, told The York Tab that she was worried about the financial impact of progressing on this provisional basis. She said: “You get this email saying how they don’t know your grades and about progression, and then you’re getting emails about reading lists for third year. You don’t know if you’re progressing, but they expect us to buy all these books.”

Some students are getting ‘no-detriment’ style grades…while others get nothing

Where students have over 80 credits marked, but are still missing marks, the uni have been giving a ‘no-detriment’ style “stage average”. Calculated from the credit weighted mean off all available marks, the average will act as the “minimum stage average used in your degree classification regardless of the marks achieved on the as yet unmarked work”

The email says that once all the work has been marked, the stage average will be reassessed, and the final degree classification will be “based on whichever is better”.

Students are being ‘left behind’

Whilst this is obviously good news for students in this position others have pointed out that the disparity, with some getting to essentially pick their stage average grade whilst others are left completely uncertain, appears unfair.

Second year Politics and International Relations student, Ellie, is one of the many students without this temporary stage average, left to provisionally progress into third year with no grade as it stands. Feeling the uni’s offer of this average to only a lucky few students was unfair, she got in touch with her department, asking for clarification and an “equal opportunity” to the “best-case approach” to calculating her degree classification.

She told The York Tab that she felt as though the university has “decided on an approach” that is now “not open to any change, even if there are clear flaws and students are left behind”.

She said that the uni: “Seems to respond to any constructive feedback with statements alluding to “unlucky” and “it’s not our fault, blame the strikes”, despite the true issue being their poor management and unequal treatment of students.

“Communicating with the department has been very frustrating. It quickly felt pointless and ineffective, as the department ignored what I was asking… It feels as though we are being treated like we have done something wrong, not supported through a very difficult time in our student experience.”

They’ve made it seem like ‘it’s all my fault’

This dissatisfaction with university communication on the issue was echoed by another second year Politics student, Darcey, who said that the emails she’d received have made it seem like “it’s all my fault this has happened, which it isn’t”.

In the camp of students left with no stage average and an offer to progress provisionally, Darcey said that the lack of exceptions made is “pretty weird”, especially since “provisions were put in place for A Levels and Covid, so I don’t understand why not now as well”.

She also drew attention to how the board of examiners have said “you can basically progress at your own financial risk”, saying that the emails feel less about supporting students and more about “the uni covering themselves in case we decide to continue and then it turns out we fail.”

Another second year student told The York Tab he was dissatisfied with university communication, saying the email from the board of examiners felt “very cold and quite alarming”. He said that himself and his peers felt it offered “no encouragement about their studies going forward.”

He continued: “They have offered the chance for resitting modules, but this all feels like a very distressing situation, especially for people who might not have a backup plan… Obviously the issue is far greater than any single member of staff but it does feel like the students are being punished for nothing here.”

‘I have no idea what’s happening still?’

Other students have shared their feelings with The York Tab, highlighting a general feeling of confusion over the uni’s policy, and it’s communication of it.

Responding to the question “how has your progression been affected?”, one student said “they haven’t told us”, whilst another said: “Literally no idea if I’ll be able to progress into third year, I’ve heard nothing from anyone.”

“I literally have no idea what’s happening still?”

“Not even half of spring marks, let alone summer. No sign of when I’ll know grading for year two.”

One student told The York Tab how she initially got sent the wrong email, which told her she couldn’t progress. The email told her that since she had module grades below the passing mark, she would have to resit all of her exams. However, the modules were below the pass mark on the VLE “because they’d only marked part of the module”.

She said: “I had to email various departments and felt like I was trying to prove that I didn’t need to retake or resit.”

The uni did then send her an apologetic email, saying the reason the email was incorrectly sent was “because of the difficulties with large numbers of students and the marking boycott.”

“It was solved within a day, but still for those hours it was very stressful and made me panic”.

Some students are being told to consider taking a leave of absence due to unmarked work

Students have also been telling The York Tab how the board of examiners are suggesting students consider taking a leave of absence while they wait the rest of their marks. One student told The York Tab that they’d “been told to consider a gap year”, whilst another said how they received “a really shitty email basically telling me to take a leave of absence”.

A leave of absence is “an authorised break from your studies”, which usually lasts a year. Students typically opt to take a leave of absence due to medical or personal circumstance that make engaging with their course challenging, are changing courses, resitting exams, or are undergoing maternity leave or work experience.

This decision would have financial implications, as students would usually stop receiving their student finance payments, although you wouldn’t have to pay tuition fees for the period. Those on student visas may “no longer be eligible for a student visa” if they were to take a leave of absence. More information can be found on the uni’s webpage here.

Second year Politics student, Lily, told The York Tab that this aspect of uni advice is “so frustrating” and that it “feels like they are just trying to cover themselves.” Whilst she doesn’t want to take a year out, she’s worried about her progression as “a lot of people have failed” a new module that she hasn’t had marks back for yet.

She also expressed frustration at the lack of communication from the uni, saying how those she’s emailed about it are either “on holiday” or “saying they can’t do much” other than wait it out.

A spokesperson for the University of York said: “We understand that students are feeling frustrated and we recognise the boycott will be causing real concern for those impacted. We have been regularly updating students through newsletters and our dedicated webpages, to explain how we are supporting students to progress. We urge students to keep in contact with their Departments and to continue checking their University email account regularly over the summer, as this is how we will send important updates.”

Further details on the university’s response can be found here.

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