marking boycott

Over two thirds of students’ mental health has worsened as a result of the marking boycott

‘I’ve had trouble sleeping, heart palpitations and panic attacks’

The majority of UK students’ mental health has been negatively impacted by the nationwide marking boycott, a new survey conducted by The Tab has found. More than 3,300 students from top UK universities voted in the survey, with 2,269 (68 per cent) noting a deterioration of their mental health since the UCU marking and assessment boycott began.  

Lecturers at almost every UK university have been refusing to carry out marking and other assessment work, like exam invigilation, since April as staff continue an ongoing campaign for better pay and pensions. And the uncertainty of this disruption is taking a big toll on students’ mental wellbeing. 

“Periods of uncertainty can trigger anxiety because it takes an individual out of their norm,” psychology expert, Dr. Cheyenne Bryant, told The Tab. “An individual’s norm creates security and certainty by providing routine and predictability. Anytime a person’s norm is altered, anxiety breeds.”

‘I’ve had heart palpitations and panic attacks’

marking boycott

Becca, a fourth year studying physics at Durham University had never experienced anxiety before the chaos of the marking boycott triggered symptoms including heart palpitations, insomnia, and panic attacks. 

“I’m never normally an anxious person,” Becca, who still doesn’t know if she passed or failed her final exams, told The Tab. “I’m usually very confident, laid back. But I think about [the marking boycott] every day…I went to uni counselling because it was just non-stop and really impacting my quality of life. It was awful.”

“I’d never had [anxiety] before so, I couldn’t recognise it,” Becca explained. “I thought I was really ill…I started getting heart palpitations, I had trouble sleeping, trouble staying asleep, mild panic attacks and I just didn’t understand it… So, I was sitting there thinking ‘ok, I’ve got all these exams, they’re not going to mark them anyway…and for some reason I’m sick now and I don’t know what it is.

“I went to uni counselling but you usually go if you have irrational anxieties, right? When I got there, they told me ‘we can’t help you because it’s quite a rational frustration and anxiety to have.’ They were like, ‘oh just wait it out – try some breathing techniques,’ which is all well and good…But it doesn’t help that much.” 

‘It’s just constant horror and panic not knowing your grades’


Katie*, a post-grad studying criminology at the University of Glasgow who only has one grade back from her year-long course, noticed her pre-existing anxiety exacerbated by the marking boycott. “It’s just such a scary time,” she told The Tab. “I’m trying to get a job that would tie in with completing my degree in September but it’s really panicking when employers ask what grades you have…and I don’t know the rest of my marks.

“It’s just a constant horror and panic in your mind not knowing what your marks are going to be,” she said. “I’m always stressed with grades anyway but now it’s ten times worse…I’m always one of those people who thinks ‘oh my God I failed.’” 

‘Anxiety worsens when life feels out of control’

According to Dr Bryant, it’s unsurprising students’ pre-existing mental health struggles have been worsened by the marking boycott. “Anxiety worsens for sufferers when life feels out of control because sufferers already lack the ability to regulate their emotions, resulting in them experiencing intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations,” she told The Tab. 

“Having to wait months before knowing what degree you have received as a result of tests, exams, and dissertations not getting graded or assessed is not only unfair, but also can have a huge impact on students’ mental health.” 

marking boycott

Yet, despite the constant worry and stress Katie has experienced as a result of the marking boycott, she still unreservedly stands with the strikers but wants universities, like thousands of other students, to settle the dispute with their workers and give them the grades and degree qualifications they deserve. 

“I’m not angry at any of the staff who taught me,” she said. “I fully understand why they’re doing it and I really do hope they can get higher pay and better working conditions…But it’s embarrassing when family and friends ask about your coursework and you still don’t know if you passed. It doesn’t look good. 

“You put in so much effort, into coursework, into a dissertation and if the higher ups at universities don’t settle this dispute, is that going to be 15,000 words down the drain for nothing? My whole summer, in effect, wasted. It’s just awful it’s all come to this.” 

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or talk to CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (UK) or through their webchat. Their trained support workers are available from 5pm to midnight every day to provide practical support and advice, whatever you’re going through.

You can also contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time, Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Student Minds online here. You matter.

The Tab’s You Matter campaign is dedicated to highlighting the student mental health crisis. If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s difficulties with getting uni support, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

More from The Tab’s You Matter campaign:

*Some names have been changed to protect students’ privacy