Following UCU's recent further national mandate, a national marking and assessment boycott began on 20 April.
The impact of this will vary across the University - not all lecturers are UCU members and not all UCU members take industrial action.
However this impacts you, we will make sure there are measures in place to ensure you can finish the year as normal. We are preparing for this at the moment by taking precautionary steps that give us a range of options if marking and assessment doesn't happen as normal. This involves something called Reserve Powers, which relates to the rules we have that allow us to award degrees and is something we are looking at now so we are prepared if needed later on.
We've put together the following FAQs on this in case you hear any discussion about it in the meantime.
The University's Reserve Powers
The great majority of assessments will not be affected by the industrial action taken by academic staff. But where any scheduled assessments do not take place, we will look to factor them out of the calculation of the overall mark for the affected modules. Where the usual marker refuses to assess a piece of submitted work we are considering a number of steps that we might take to ensure a fair and appropriate mark is returned for that work. As always, our top priority remains that of protecting our students from the impact of the industrial action and ensuring that they are not disadvantaged by it.
What the University refers to as the ‘Reserve Powers’ is in fact an expansion of single clause in one of the Ordinances - Ordinance 26 - that allows it to waive some of the usual rules about how degrees are awarded.
The Ordinances are the underlying set of rules that define the make-up of University bodies (such as Senate, Council, Academic Divisions and Boards of Examiners, etc.) and they set out how these University bodies should go about their business.
Senate is the democratically elected body that has ultimate responsibility for all decisions made about learning, teaching and the quality of the student experience at Kent. It is led by the Vice-Chancellor. The membership is drawn from senior academics from every Division and from representatives of the student body.
Boards of Examiners are the bodies in the Divisions that make decisions on final marks for modules, about which students can go on to the next stage of their course, and about what class of degree or other award students can pick up after the completion of their studies. Boards of Examiners consist of the academic staff who teach and examine on the courses in their Division. They also have at least one examiner from another university (the external examiner), whose job it is give their independent view to Kent on how well the courses in the Divisions are run and on whether students are achieving the right standards.
Ordinance 26 allows the University to continue to run assessments, arrive at degree results and award degrees to students under unusually disruptive conditions, such as a pandemic or industrial action, which might otherwise prevent this from happening. It empowers Senate to act in the best interests of students by agreeing a slightly relaxed set of rules that would work to offset the impact of the disruption suffered.
With Senate’s permission, under the Reserve Powers we devise a broad set of contingency rules that would only come into play should conditions necessitate it. To offset the impact of any disruption the relaxed rules might allow - within agreed limits - for such things as:
- Allowing final marks for modules to be agreed when elements of coursework have not been delivered or some assessment marks are missing
- Allow exams to go ahead without the external vetting of exam papers
- Allowing students to progress smoothly to the next stage or to graduate on time when some credits could not be allocated
- Allow Boards of Examiners to meet and finalise results when some examiners - including external examiners - refuse to participate.
It is important to stress that any of the above would only be used if absolutely necessary. Our primary focus of the is to use our normal processes wherever possible. Individual areas for mitigation are used as sparingly as possible to ensure fair outcomes for students.
No, absolutely not. Safeguards remain in place. Use of any of the relaxed rules introduced under the Reserve Powers requires the consent of the DVC Education and Student Experience to do so. This introduction of any changes to our normal processes requires that the relaxed rules cannot be applied where to do so would undermine the academic standards of the qualification awarded. The standard rules for awarding credit and degrees are merely tweaked to be more flexible. They are not abandoned.
At present, Ordinance 27 states that the University’s awards should be agreed by an external examiner. Although we do seek the waiver of this particular University rule, this again is purely a contingency request. Despite this waiver being granted on multiple occasions in recent years, the circumstances have not required it to be implemented in practice and we anticipate that this will continue to be the case.
We appreciate that the present action is likely to provoke a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty among the student population. This is understandable. The University's standard channels for student well-being support remain available and can be accessed on an urgent basis.
If you feel you need urgent support please phone on 01227 826573 for the Canterbury campus or 01634 888474 for Medway or email KentSSW@kent.ac.uk or MedwaySSW@kent.ac.uk and ask for urgent wellbeing support.
In addition, help can be provided 24/7 from our partner organisations in this area. See the link below for details of the support available: