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Cardiff University accused of ‘trashing’ academic standards during marking boycott

10 Jul 2023 6 minute read
Cardiff University. Picture by Stan Zurek

Cardiff University has been accused of “trashing” academic standards as students say they are being forced to accept “unclassified” degrees due to an ongoing dispute over pay and working conditions.

Mitigations to the University’s assessment processes were introduced following a national marking and assessment boycott (MAB) carried out by members of the University and College Union (UCU).

UCU members have paused marking assignments, issuing grades and engaging in exam invigilation as part of their industrial action.

The union has accused Cardiff University of allowing students work to be marked by non-specialists and in some instances they say work has gone un-marked meaning degrees are being awarded based on incomplete results.

Those in the first and second years of their degrees have also been affected with some students unable to progress to the next phase of their study.

Cardiff University has rejected the suggestion that they are “trashing” academic standards during the marking boycott.

UCU say the long running dispute is due to unhealthy workloads, precarious and casual employment conditions, and gender and race pay gaps.


Cardiff UCU spokesperson Dr Andy Williams said: “Our members feel awful for students who are affected by this dispute. We’ve been fighting for 5 years now, and we exhausted all other options before employing the ‘nuclear option’ of an assessment boycott.

“It’s heartbreaking to see that our employers are still playing hardball in this way. Sadly, we’ve become used to the lack of care our bosses show towards their staff.

“But our members are frankly shocked and disgusted by the disregard they’re now showing students, and the cavalier attitude they’ve taken in trashing academic standards and devaluing student degrees simply to avoid paying their staff fairly and improving our conditions.”

UCU are calling on Cardiff University bosses and the Universities and Colleges Employer Association to negotiate an end to the boycott.

Final Year politics and economics student Jazz Walsh said the delay in receiving results has left any post university future on a “knife edge”

Jazz said: “It’s infuriating for myself and others to not get our results back. While it may seem trivial for some, many of us cannot graduate. Our qualifications for which we have worked so hard, and paid so much, have been destroyed and undermined entirely.

“I should be heading off for my master’s degree in September, but my future is on a knife edge as results are delayed. If I paid for university with a credit card, I would be reporting it as fraud right now.

“Worst of all the University have known about this issue for a long time, yet still haven’t come to a resolution with staff to ensure they are treated and paid fairly, it’s not a big ask.”

Final year student Alice Onion said over half of her degree is still yet to be marked and the stress has left her feeling emotional.

Alice said: “Some days I feel resigned whilst others I cry with frustration, I really hope that Cardiff University takes the right course of action that respects their students and staff.

“The marking and assessment boycott is affecting my final year work dramatically. My spring term at Cardiff University was made up of 3 modules and this included my dissertation.

“So far I have heard that my dissertation has not been marked, no assignments from a module and 40% of another module. This means that almost half of my degree is yet to be marked.

“The university have said they will make sure we graduate – even if this happens without us having our marks back. This seems disrespectful to the hours of work myself, peers and lecturers have put into our modules as well as highly anticlimactic when I will not actually be graduating with my full degree.

Alice said the mitigating measures put in place are “problematic” as marks will not reflect the “in-depth knowledge” of lecturers.

She added: “I have spent many hours dedicated to my assignments knowing they could change my final mark from a 2:1 to a 1st so to disregard them ignores all the time management, effort and research that goes into our work. All I want as a student is for my lecturers to mark my work. Anything else is not good enough.”


Alice said her anger is at Cardiff University as an institution and not at her striking lecturers, but at the University which is “failing to negotiate or attempt any productive means of resolving this boycott”.

She added: “It is a shame that universities, institutions made to push new ways of thinking and challenge social norms, have been turned into businesses that are now undermining these very ways of thinking.”

In a message published to the university’s website on June 30, Cardiff University’s Vice-Chancellor, Colin Riordan described the strike action as “damaging” for students awaiting results and said that in many cases the delay would be a “barrier” to students progressing to postgraduate study or securing a job.

A Cardiff University spokesperson said: “As our statement makes clear; this is a national dispute. The University cannot solve these issues independently. We are committed to the joint national consultation process and to finding an affordable solution that recognises the highly valued contribution of our staff.

“We continue to work constructively with Cardiff UCU on local issues where we are able to make improvements for our staff. We hope that a conclusion can be drawn soon to this period of industrial action, for the benefit of every member of our community.

“We reject any suggestion that we are ‘trashing’ academic standards. We are acting entirely in accordance with precedent and within the regulatory framework of the University. The University’s priority is to ensure that students receive degrees which are valid and reliable and are of an equivalent standard to degrees awarded in previous years.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure that all assessments are marked. The majority of students will receive their marks, in full, and will not be affected. We will only award degrees where students can demonstrate achievement of programme learning outcomes and have been awarded the requisite number of credits.

“This is consistent with degrees awarded in previous years and in line with similar actions taken at other universities. The use of this type of language only serves to undermine the efforts of our students who, despite a global pandemic and periods of industrial action, have worked tirelessly to achieve their degrees.”

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1 year ago

Universities shooting themselves in both feet and their academic staff are complicit too. No wonder so many young people are becoming unsure about the value of a degree from any UK institution. Older people considering a mid life degree course will also look at this sort of nonsense and question seriously whether the c.£9500per annum
+ expenses for 3 or more years study is worth the bother when neither the institution or its teachers really give a damn. Top cats earning a fortune while employing indifferent academics is not a good look.

1 year ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Can you provide evidence that teachers don’t give a damn?

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