University students feel ‘hopeless’ as strike action leaves them in graduation limbo

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University students feel ‘hopeless’ as strike action leaves them in graduation limbo

"Instead of celebrating I’m in limbo with my job and career in jeopardy": Thousands left without grades and issued with blank certificates.

Students demand that universities negotiate with lecturers who are boycotting exam marking.
Students demand that universities negotiate with lecturers who are boycotting exam marking.

Frustrated Jewish students have expressed feelings of “hopelessness” as the academic pay dispute leaves them in graduation limbo.

Speaking to Jewish News, the students from Cambridge, Durham and Leeds universities described how industrial action by members of education unions has left them and fellow graduates uncertain about their imminent pathway to future careers, graduate schemes and masters degrees.

Sam Grankin, 21, from London, has just completed a history and politics course at the University of Cambridge.

He told Jewish News: “Our graduation was actually an ‘end of degree celebration’, as a large number of students, myself included, were unable to formally graduate having not received any final grades.”


Sam Grankin.

Grankin noted that Cambridge academics “specifically voted down mitigatory measures” that would have allowed students to graduate without their grades “in order to bolster the supposed efficacy of the strike.”

Embarking on a law conversion course next year, fortunately for him, City, University of London have been “very understanding about the present situation”, and have allowed him to begin the course with no formal degree; but Grankin knows of others “far less lucky”, whose jobs or future studies have been placed on hold due to the situation.

“That is,” he adds “also not to mention the large numbers of international students who are having significant visa issues due to their lack of grades.”

Whilst Grankin says he has the “utmost sympathy” for the lecturers and academics who have “reasonable points of dispute on pay, pensions and conditions”, he says their “means of harming final year students who already lost their first year due to COVID is almost unforgivable.

“They are sacrificing our future and materially harming us, not the universities who they are in dispute with.”

Joshua Thompson, 19, Durham University 2023.

Joshua Thompson, who has just completed his first year at Durham University, told Jewish News industrial action isn’t just impacting graduates:

“A big problem with the strikes is the issue of not know whether you have to do retakes due to the strike. This means it could be until October before someone finds out they need to retake, meaning they have to redo difficult exams during typical working week hours. It makes succeeding extremely difficult.”

Thompson adds that the uncertainty could lead to students “doing second/third year work without even knowing whether you’re guaranteed to still be at the uni post-retake.”

Joel Walters, who has just completed his fourth year studying Economics at Leeds University, told Jewish News:

“The situation feels hopeless. If this was a business I’d be demanding my money back or at the very least compensation. There must be consumer rights? This is not the service I’d expect from any organisation I’ve paid for, so why and how the universities are getting away with this is beyond me.

Walters says he has “sent email after email to my personal tutors and lecturers but haven’t even received an acknowledgement.”

Whilst he understands that “maybe the matter is out of their hands, but why the lack of communication and support? I feel like there has been little regard for my well-being.”

Like many students in his position, Walters says “the prospect of my graduate training scheme being in jeopardy has left me feeling really anxious. They require an official degree, but all I’ve got so far are some transcripts and a few grades for some papers which means nothing to my potential employer.”

“The impact of this strike is so much more far reaching for us students and I don’t think anyone has taken this into consideration. It’s actually very upsetting. Instead of celebrating and graduating, I’m in limbo with my job and career in jeopardy. I’m left feeling utterly dismayed at the university education system.”

Joel is just one of many students who should have got his grade by 10th July.

The industrial action, by the University and College Union (UCU) and EIS-Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) has been ongoing since April 2023. Union bosses have rejected an offer by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) for a pay increase worth between 5% and 8%.

Without marked papers and final grades, students who should be fully graduating are in limbo, unable to move forward with graduate employee schemes, Masters degree programmes or jobs.

According to the website of the University and College Union, more than 1,800 staff at Leeds University are striking, with all those taking industrial action facing 100% pay deductions.

The boycott covers all marking and assessment, including in writing, online, or verbally at 145 universities.

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