Question marks remain over exams as strikes end but UCU continues campaigning

Image credit: Sophie Laura Weymes-McElderry

The University and College Union (UCU) has called for the resignation of external examiners at the 65 universities where pension strikes have taken place, raising concerns for finalists’ degrees. The call for the resignation of external examiners comes shortly after UCU rejected a proposal, which would have protected defined benefits at a lower rate, which was drawn up at talks with Universities UK (UUK).

Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, said that in light of these developments “we will now make detailed preparations for strikes over the assessment and exam period,” anticipating a continued 14 days of strikes during examinations season. Staying true to this statement UCU has called for all external examiners holding positions at striking universities to resign their role and not take up a new one. Hunt describes this decision as a method to get universities’ representatives “back round the table with us as soon as possible to get this dispute resolved.”

To facilitate the process UCU has presented all its members with a publicly displayed template of a resignation letter to present to their respective institutions. The increased pressure on UUK will be felt as external examiners play a crucial role in the examination process. External examiners become crucial during the assessment and examination season. They are required to write reports on the procedure, conduct examinations, ensure that formal procedures are adhered to and that the standards of awards in Cambridge are comparable to those elsewhere. In doing so they review a sample of exam questions and scripts to ensure that internal marking at universities has been appropriately and consistently applied.

The UCU decision to call for the resignation of external examiners increases pressure for UUK because, as Hunt says, it will call into question the “quality of their degree”. In a public notice posted on the 19th of February of this year the University of Cambridge stated that the it has “long-standing means of mitigating the impact of disruption on the content, conduct and marking of exams.” However, in light of continued strike action and the disruptions to the examination process, Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope said at an open meeting held yesterday that a continuation of strikes during Easter Term would be both "terrible and unacceptable” and pledged to “do everything possible” to reach a resolution.

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