Dispute dispatches

April 28, 2006

Keele University has compromised its academic standards with a "scandalous" decision to allow students to graduate without completing their final year, staff have claimed.

The Times Higher reported this month that the university's senate had agreed plans to allow students to claim degrees as long as they had completed about two thirds of their final year, in a move to counter the Association of University Teachers' marking boycott.

In a letter published in The Times Higher today, 20 prominent arts and humanities staff, including Ian Bell, head of American studies, and several research professors, warn that the move represents "a serious diminution of standards in the interests of business continuity planning". They say reports that up to 70 final-year students will graduate with degree classifications they do not deserve "may prove a substantial underestimate", and they claim that some students "are now abandoning any revision at all".

* At Dundee University, exam boards will be able to award simple pass or fail results if they do not have enough reliable evidence to grade papers according to the university's standard marking scale.

As exams began this week, David Duncan, the university secretary, confirmed that all the exam papers had been submitted and that all centrally timetabled tests would go ahead as scheduled. "If not all summative assessment marks are available, we will assess students on the basis of available marks, from either exams or formal assignments during the course," Dr Duncan said. "Continuing students will be awarded classifications based on the available evidence." If there was not enough reliable evidence, boards could award a simple pass/fail. Dr Duncan said Dundee had not yet taken formal legal advice on how to respond if students lodged claims against the university.

* Natfhe reports that members at the University of the West of England have refused to fill in a form to say whether or not they took part in the one-day strike on March 7, stating that such requests had to go through the union. The union reports that membership is up 5 per cent since the start of the dispute.

* Bournemouth University's Natfhe branch and its student union have launched a petition this week calling on Paul Curran, the vice-chancellor, to put pressure on the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association to settle the dispute as soon as possible.

* Strathclyde University has postponed postgraduate exams in human resource management. The Students Representative Council this week voted to condemn the boycott after a meeting of about 100 students concerned that they might be unable to graduate.

* Student union leaders at St Martin's College of Higher Education, Lancaster, have joined growing student condemnation of the unions' boycott of marking and exams. Jeff Tweedle, the student union president, described the action as "irresponsible" and "unacceptable".

* More than 20 student union leaders have signed a letter in support of the Association of University Teachers in a backlash against their peers, who have signed a petition critical of the union.

In a letter to Sally Hunt, AUT president, student union presidents say: "To those student leaders who have asked the AUT to back down, we say, shame on you!" Those who signed the letter included the student union presidents of Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Birmingham universities. Gaston Dolle, president of Bristol University Students' Union, started a petition last week condemning the AUT assessment boycott.

* Leicester University, which has the highest number of distance-learning students after the Open University, is already being affected by the marking boycott, it says.

* Employers and union leaders at the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education in Wrexham have settled on a "non-confrontational"

approach to the pay dispute, which could mean assessment of students' work being postponed until September. Graduation is not until October. Managers are still working on an action plan.

* AUT sources at Queen Mary, University of London, report that it looks increasingly likely that some exams and graduation ceremonies will be rescheduled. A spokeswoman for the university said she expected that students would sit written examinations as required.

* Exams are likely to go ahead as planned from next Tuesday at Aston University because most papers were set before the dispute began, but a marking boycott is still in place. Students have been writing to Mike Wright, the vice-chancellor, to ask him to pressure Ucea to make a reasonable offer.

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