Marking and Assessment Boycott
We are deeply concerned and share the frustration and disappointment that many students are experiencing due to the ongoing marking boycott (MAB) and the impact this is having on students.
We understand that hundreds of students have received an email stating that they are facing the distressing situation of being unable to fully graduate or progress to the next year of their studies in the manner that they should have done.
As your representative body, we firmly believe that students should not be caught in the middle of conflicts between the University and the UCU union.
We have called upon both the University management and the UCU union to prioritise the interests of students in their negotiations.
We will continue to actively engage with the University management to express our dissatisfaction and to advocate on behalf of students.
We asked for:
£1000 as a goodwill gesture for everyone that has been affected, without restrictions on making further complaints and seeking further compensation where you have experienced more severe issues or losses because of the disruption.
Disappointingly, this was rejected by the university. Therefore, we suggest students submit complaints to request individual compensation if they remain dissatisfied. We will be providing template letters of complaint over the coming days, are seeking a streamlined complaints process, and an extension to the deadline for submitting them.
The University covers any fees associated with international students applying for new visas or visa extensions.
The university is part of all universities lobbying UK (United Kingdom) Visas & Immigration on this issue. In the meantime, we will continue to push for them to cover any additional fees that international students might face.
Free graduation ceremony for all students affected including free gown hire and 4 free tickets for their family to acknowledge the fact that students will now have to graduate in February as opposed to July which may come at an extra cost as students leave the area.
The university has agreed to provide free gown hire, two free guest tickets, and a photography package to all students who are now unable to attend graduation in July 2023.
We are now seeking clarification on whether this will be extended to students who might miss their intended future graduation date due to the marking and assessment boycott.
The University convenes emergency exam boards throughout the summer when results are available to allow students to receive final grades. Particularly those that require final marks for registration with a regulatory body or for future employment such as social work.
The university has agreed to hold as many as required to try and resolve issues as quickly as possible. You should check MyStudies and student email regularly to ensure you are up to date.
We have also created a set of frequently asked questions that you can find here: UCU Strikes (brightonsu.com).
What do we advise you to do in the short term, and should you submit a complaint?
In the first instance, we encourage all those affected to contact their School Offices to help understand how this situation is affecting you individually.
The university has expressed the hope that students will receive all their marks by September, but this is still not guaranteed. It is therefore difficult to assess how much each student will be impacted at this time.
Any student has the right to bring a complaint to the university at any time. You can do so now if you feel you have been impacted by the marking and assessment boycott.
If you believe this may impact you even more in the near future moment you may wish to wait until the full impact on you is clear so that you are able to evidence it in your complaint. The impact may change over time, and it may be hard to know now, the full extent of the impact. It is not possible to demand compensation for issues that may arise in the future, even if you strongly believe it will happen.
When a complaint is made, the responsibility is on you to provide evidence of the situation and any impact it may have had.
For now, we recommend that you should keep a diary or record that details any impact you experience, which is dated.
Here are some examples:
3rd April 2023
Signed a tenancy agreement for £xxx.xx per month
Unable to withdraw from the contract, and it is unclear if I am studying next year
20th June 2023
Signed off part time work due to stress of situation
Loss of earnings
Doctors note, and part time job contract
10th July 2023
Informed I can’t take up my new job as I don’t have all my marks
Loss of earnings
Email of job offer being withdrawn
You should keep copies of any evidence (e.g., emails, documents, receipts) that you have about the impact.
If you still want to make a complaint now
You can make an initial complaint about any losses now, and then follow this later with any additional losses. This will be more time-consuming for you, so you just need to think about what is best for you.
When writing your complaint, you need to consider the following types of “loss”, and “remedies”.
A loss is some kind of damage you have suffered because of the marking and assessment boycott. A remedy is something you want the university to do to put things right. We cover both losses and remedies below.
In your complaint you would need to:
Explain what losses you have incurred
Provide evidence for those
Suggest an appropriate “remedy”
The practical remedies available in this situation are limited due to the nature of the industrial action taking place.
An example of a practical remedy for this situation would be to ensure that your work is marked as soon as possible.
However, this is something the university has already committed to. The problem is that the university doesn’t have control over how long this industrial action will go on for.
As a Students’ Union we have already suggested some practical remedies on your behalf, as covered above.
Compensation for distress and inconvenience
This is to compensate for the distress that you will have already experienced due to the impact of the marking and assessment boycott, and inconvenience associated with it.
£1,000 stands in the “substantial” impact category for distress and inconvenience in the Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) guide to “Putting things right”.
Speculative financial loss
It is not normally possible to be compensated for speculative financial losses, or lost opportunities.
As an example, this may be accommodation costs as part of a tenancy agreement for 2023/24 which you no longer need. However, this impact won’t be clear until it is certain you cannot continue your studies next academic year.
This is why our advice is it may be better to wait until there is a clear impact that you can evidence before raising a complaint.
Actual financial loss
If you have already suffered an actual financial loss that you can directly link back to the MAB then you should submit a complaint now.
You should gather evidence of the financial loss, and submit this as part of your complaint.
How to raise a complaint
Information from the University on submitting complaints can be found here: https://www.brighton.ac.uk/brighton-students/your-learning/problems-with-your-course/index.aspx
Time limits for making a complaint
There is a time limit for making a complaint. The complaints policy says that a student should raise a complaint “within 30 calendar days of the issue or concern arising”.
For students who have withdrawn or completed their course, the deadline to complain is within 60 days of the last date of attendance, or the withdrawal/completion of the course, whichever is earlier. You can submit a stage 2 complaint straight away, if you are no longer studying.
Stage 1 informal complaint
It is hoped most concerns can be resolved informally within your School. In most cases this approach provides a quick solution.
You are encouraged to raise issues with your School Complaints Officer (SCO) - the person nominated to listen to your concerns and help find a resolution with you.
To find out who the relevant SCO is you can contact your School Office. You can find your School Office email address here https://www.brighton.ac.uk/brighton-students/your-learning/school-office-contacts/index.aspx
They may ask to meet with you to discuss the complaint. They should provide an outcome in writing.
If your stage 1 complaint cannot clearly be dealt with by the School Complaints Officer within 14 days, you should be advised in writing to complete the Stage 2 Formal Student Complaint Form.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of Stage 1 you can take your complaint to the next level; the ‘formal’ stage. Please get in touch with us for further advice.
Drafting a Stage 1 complaint
We recommend you email your concerns or write them in a word- processed document to attach it to an email. Send this to your SCO. Let them know you want to raise an ‘early resolution’ or Stage 1 complaint.
When you contact your SCO, try to:
Remember that the person(s) dealing with your complaint may not have the level of background information you have. Therefore, take care to ensure that the information you provide is comprehensive (while also being as concise as reasonably possible).
Ordinarily, it is a complainant’s responsibility to provide the information and evidence relevant to the issue so you should not expect the person dealing with it to seek this on your behalf.
We would advise you to draft a complaint statement that includes the following:
- An introductory summary of your complaint
- A timeline of key events – what happened, dates and times of when it happened. Try to keep this factual and chronological.
- That the impact of the marking and assessment boycott is unacceptable, and/or is a breach of contract (see below)
- How the issues affected you, and the impact upon you and/or your studies.
- Your desired outcome(s) and an explanation of why your desired outcome is relevant and justified
Regarding point 3 above and breach of contract, you could argue that you have signed a contract with the University of Brighton and that involves the University applying “reasonable care and skill” to providing an educational service to you.
In a case where your work has not been marked and this has delayed or blocked your progression, you could argue that the university has not performed with reasonable care and skill.
You would be arguing that because of this breach, you are seeking compensation for any loss you have incurred.
Your contract states under 21.3 of the Main Terms and Conditions that:
“21.3 We will not be liable to you for events outside our control that we could not have foreseen or prevented even if we had taken reasonable care. Events outside our control include industrial action, over or under demand from students, staff illness, significant changes to higher education funding, severe weather, fire, civil disorder, political unrest, government restrictions and concern about the transmission of serious illness. In such circumstances, we reserve the right to change or cancel parts, or all, of your course.”
However, you could argue that this is unreasonably broad and not in line with the Competition & Marketing Authority (CMA) guidance to Higher Education providers reissued in May 2023.
Terms that seek to limit liability for industrial action are specifically listed by the CMA in the guidance as an example of terms that could be open to challenge in the courts (page 60 of the guidance).
You could argue that the above term per your contract could be a blacklisted or greylisted term per Part 1 of the Consumer Rights Act, as this includes any terms that seek to exclude or limit liability for failure to provide educational services with “reasonable care and skill”. These terms are not meant to be used in contracts.
Section 5.27 of the guidance states:
“The relevant circumstances should be clearly and specifically described, and in the CMA’s view there should be no listing of matters that could be within the trader’s control – for example industrial disputes with the trader’s own employees. The words ‘force majeure’ are sometimes used as a blanket term to describe events which are completely outside the trader’s control, however this is legal jargon and best avoided, and should never be used without clear explanation. In addition, such terms should not enable the HE (Higher Education) provider to refuse redress where it is at fault, for example in not taking reasonable steps to prevent or minimise problems."
BSU are happy to look over a draft of your complaint and provide further feedback, advice and guidance. Email firstname.lastname@example.org