Hundreds of external examiners have resigned from their posts as the dispute over changes to UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme rumbles on.
As of 23 March, more than 600 external examiners had recorded their resignations in a public document circulating on social media.
Widespread resignations could cause significant difficulties for universities’ assessment processes because external examiners have a role in the setting of questions, moderation of results and quality control of marking procedures.
The growing number of resignations follows 14 days of escalating strike action, which caused widespread disruption at 65 UK institutions, in protest over plans to scrap the element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme that guarantees members a certain level of income in retirement.
Further strike dates are also planned to hit the exam and assessment period, with exact dates expected to be announced next week.
The University and College Union, which warns that the proposed changes to the USS would leave the average lecturer £10,000 worse off annually in retirement, called on academics to resign their external examiner positions at the 65 affected institutions on 16 March.
Melissa Nisbett, senior lecturer in arts and cultural management at King’s College London, resigned her external examiner post at the University of Leeds’ School of Performance and Cultural Industries earlier this month.
In a letter addressed to the university’s vice-chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands, Dr Nisbett, who has been an examiner at the institution for two years, said she was resigning in response to the “punitive action” taken against staff by demanding that they reschedule missed classes or face pay deductions.
“Many other institutions have taken a similar stance, with several subsequently retreating in response to the backlash that they received from staff, students, alumni and parents,” she added. “Despite looking increasingly isolated, the University of Leeds is standing by this decision.
“This is regrettable, as it causes a further breakdown in terms of your relationship with your colleagues and it risks prolonging the dispute.”
Several other universities have rescinded policies that would have seen lecturers facing further pay deductions if they refused to reschedule classes.