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Higher Education Minister and university leaders examined on impact of marking and assessment boycott

Evidence session  

Impact of industrial action on university students  

Tuesday 19 March, 10:00, Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster

Watch live on ParliamentTV 

The Education Committee will hold the final session of its inquiry investigating the impact of the marking and assessment boycott on university students.

Witnesses from Durham University, King’s College London, and Queen’s University Belfast, along with the Higher Education Minister Robert Halfon MP, will face questioning.

As part of a long-running industrial dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions, University and College Union members at more than 140 institutions took part in a marking and assessment boycott last year.

This resulted in students experiencing delays in receiving their final grades and postponed graduation dates, due to staff disengagement from essential marking and assessment processes.

The cross-party Committee is interested in what impact this had on students’ studies and will ask the universities what measures they took to mitigate the impact.

MPs will delve into the broader impacts of the boycott, exploring the effects it had on students’ mental health, employment, and visas.

The universities giving evidence had significant numbers of students affected by the boycott and the Committee will explore the various strategies they implemented to mitigate the situation.

The boycott at Queen’s University Belfast ended earlier, after the University reached an agreement with their local UCU branch in June. This was the first settlement of its kind across the UK. King’s College London’s response to the boycott involved reassigning marking of students’ work to members of staff who were not on strike, as well as readjusting the weighting of assessments. Durham University implemented a policy whereby students received interim classifications based on marks already available.

In the second panel, Minister Robert Halfon, alongside a Department for Education official, will be questioned on what actions the Department took to address the challenges posed by the boycott on students, both UK and domestic. It was reported last year that students’ futures were left in “limbo” as marks and grades were delayed. This was exacerbated for international students who had to also contend with visa requirements.

MPs will also ask the Minister about the Office for Students’ response to the boycott, and whether their actions were adequate in protecting students’ interests and rights during the period of industrial action.  

The session may conclude with questions to the Minister about the likelihood of future strike action and the readiness of the Department to minimise disruption to students. A previous witness from the inquiry said that she had “not really seen much evidence that we could not end up in a situation like this again”. 

Witnesses from 10:00

  • Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor, Durham University
  • Professor Adam Fagan, Vice President (Education & Student Success), King’s College London
  • Professor Stuart Elborn, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University Belfast

Witnesses from 11:00

  • Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education
  • Patrick Curry, Director of Higher Education Oversight, Department for Education 

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