‘We’ve been abandoned’: Final year York students on the impact of the marking boycott

‘Sympathy isn’t a degree, and that’s what I want’

Final year students at The University of York have been receiving emails to tell them if they will actually get their degree this summer due to the impacts of the ongoing marking and assessment boycott. Depending on the amount of credits they currently have marked, unclassified degrees, and in some cases no formal degree at all, will be handed out in this year’s graduation ceremonies.

As it stands, there is no indication as to when this confusion will end, or when final and formal decisions will be made on students’ degrees (although York’s Vice-Chancellor has recently called for negotiations with the UCU). For those affected, the prospect of graduating without a result leaves masters’ places and job offers seemingly in the balance.

The York Tab spoke to the students affected, most of whom are frustrated not only at the situation, particularly as to how this may impact their futures, but also the uni’s handling of it.

‘I just feel like I’m screaming at a blank wall’

After three difficult years at York, facing disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic and strike action, final year English and Related Literature student, Ellie, is left with no formal degree having only had two pieces of work marked this year.

She told The York Tab that, whilst her department has “been amazing in that they’re trying their best to support us”, communication from the university is where more of her frustration lies. She said that “it feels like they are trying to downplay it”, in that they have been saying her situation would be a very rare instance.

She said: “I feel like we’re being ignored in some respects, and just kind of buried… I just feel like I’m screaming at a blank wall.”

Having started university in 2020, Ellie highlighted the ways in which her cohort’s education has been continuously disrupted, saying that after all they’ve been through she’s “really sick of students being used as pawns in a game that’s not even ours.” She also told The York Tab how some of her peers, despite being invited, don’t want to go to their graduations: “It feels like an empty sham, like its a lie and a performance.

Students are being told they can’t be awarded a degree

‘Sympathy isn’t a degree’

“I just feel angry and insulted, but there’s no were really to direct that anger… I’m fed up of my life and my degree and the money I’ve paid for this to be completely manipulated and derailed out of my control. The only thing [the uni] could do is compensate us, because we’ve paid for something we’ve not received… although there is the sympathy and the empathy there, that’s not a degree and that’s what I want.”

Another third year English student, Lucy, told The York Tab she has received no marks or feedback all year. She said: “I have had almost no information from the university about my situation, despite the fact that I am completing my entire final year of my degree with virtually no help or feedback. I truly feel like I am teaching myself at this point”.

Students feel ‘let down’

Final year student, Olivia, told The York Tab she wasn’t satisfied with the communication she’d received, saying “There are mixed messages from both department and the university. I do not feel supported, I feel disappointed and very let down”. Many final year students have expressed discontent with the quality of communication from the university, mirroring a similar feeling of frustration held by returning students suggesting this is a university-wide issue.

Third year English student, Emma, echoed this feeling, saying students: “always seem to get contradictory advice from the university and the department. From the student’s perspective, it seems like the uni doesn’t have an open dialogue with the staff in our department.”

She said that she is “angry and disappointed about the whole situation”: “My university experience has been continually disrupted from Covid and online learning in first year, to huge continual strike action in my second and third year. University in the UK is so much money, and is only going to get more expensive, and there is no way my experience has been worth more than £9000 a year.”

Students feel they should receive compensation

She said that it feels as though students have “always been on the backfoot”, working to make up for the impact of covid and strikes; she that not receiving the degree she “worked hard for and paid for is a kick in the teeth. It’s insulting. In what other industry do you pay for a service, and then are expected to keep quiet when you do not have that service fulfilled and receive no compensation?”

Emma also shared her feelings on the disproportionate impact the boycott seems to be having on arts and humanities degrees, saying that for her, “this is part of a continued attack by the government and university leaders to devalue degrees and teaching in this field. The staff of these departments are forced to go on strike because they do not receive the same funding and respect as STEM staff do.”

‘In two weeks time I will collect a certificate that doesn’t reflect my skills, talent, or time’

Students are still being invited to graduation

For final year student Q, their degree feels like its been “one issue after another”, alluding to disruption from Covid and strikes since 2020. They said that they feel the marking boycott has, this time, been “ineffective, emotionally draining for students, and applied unfairly.”

They pointed out the disparity between the impact on STEM against humanities students, saying: “A marking boycott that only impacts some people some of the tie is not an effective boycott, its just a punishment to burnout students.”

Students who aren’t receiving their full and formal degrees this summer are still being invited to graduation ceremonies which Q said: “means spending at least £45 on a gown along, not factoring in travel or accommodation in order to attend. In under two weeks’ time I will walk across a stage and collect a certificate that doesn’t reflect my skills, my talents, or my time.”

A University of York spokesperson said: “We know how disappointed and frustrated students are, especially because graduation ceremonies feel like a culmination of all the hard work and a moment to capture all you have experienced at university.

“This is why we are hosting our ceremonies, because we do not think students should miss out on this important event, where we can recognise all your achievements and success. We are very proud of all of our students and want you to have this time with all your supporters, friends and families.

“We have been regularly updating students through Departments, newsletters and our dedicated webpages, and we continue to do all that we can to provide support, informing students of their final outcomes as soon as we are able.”

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