Durham’s interim degree situation is disappointing for humanities students


The message from the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Education and the SU President that arrived in my inbox on the 31st of May certainly put the ‘bitter’ in bittersweet as I prepared for my last ever round of post-exam celebrations. Along with every other fatigued finalist, I attempted to digest the information that the culmination of the past three years of my life would be ‘pomp and ceremony’, but quite possibly not the degree I had worked and paid for.

With full transparency, I write this article from the perspective of a humanities finalist with no idea what my life will look like come September. I despair at the way in which I am now being joined in this predicament by so many of my peers, a great number of them grad job offer-holders and masters- hopefuls.

‘It is highly regrettable that the UCU have chosen to take this course of action at a national level,’ explained Academic Registrar, Dr Monika Nangia, in a further email to finalists on the 9th of June. While interim degrees are the University’s answer to a problem that they claim they are powerless to ‘resolve locally’, it is the powerlessness I feel as a student, and the way in which my voice seems to be the quietest of them amongst this national dispute directly affecting my future, that is most ‘regrettable’ to me.

I know I am not alone in holding the view that academics and university staff are being unfairly treated and deserve to have their requests met. I agree with UCU arguments that staff working conditions are student learning conditions, and I share their frustrations. However, after dealing with Covid-19 disruption, two years of heavy industrial action, and now the prospect of graduating without a degree at all, I know I am also not alone in finding it challenging to remain as sympathetic as I once was.

For many, the worry lies in the possibility of not receiving a Durham degree at all

According to a study conducted by The Tab, only 31.2% of Durham students support the marking and assessment boycott, as opposed to the 70.2% who supported the strikes that occurred in February this year. Finalists are being continually assured that the University is ‘doing all [it] can to avoid and limit disruption.’ While ‘interim’ degrees should only last until the industrial action ballot closes in late September, the disruption they may cause to graduates will be felt well beyond this.

As the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Education explains, ‘the purpose of interim awards is to help students transition to the next stage of their lives, be that in employment or further study’. While the University has ‘guaranteed’ that interim classifications will act as a baseline, their decision to raise grade boundaries will certainly disadvantage finalists for whom those crucial few marks may mean the difference between a graduate job or unemployment.

Even so, a minimum of 60 credits are needed for an interim award. While I try to remain optimistic, this is a challenge when dissertations are worth 40 by themselves. I sympathise in particular with my housemate, who completed a triple module worth 60 credits as part of her History degree this year alongside a dissertation, and feared being unable to apply for a masters this summer.

I never worried about the ‘quality of a Durham degree.’ This is a national issue affecting 145 UK universities — we aren’t the only ones taking hits to our academic qualifications. For many, the worry lies in the possibility of not receiving a Durham degree at all. The thought of countless Billy B all-nighters with nothing to show for it.

For everything interim degrees are promising us, uncertainty remains, and it continues to present us with our biggest problems. But as a 2020 fresher, I suppose it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before.

Image credit: Gordon Griffiths

2 thoughts on “Durham’s interim degree situation is disappointing for humanities students

  • I’m not too sure why this article is titled to suggest that receiving an interim degree is somehow less disappointing for science students. The points made in the article clearly apply to any student receiving an interim degree.

    • Because it’s all about the writer.

      But yes, it’s an atrocious situation for all students in all years, but especially those graduating this year. It’s despicable of the university and academic staff who are not delivering the service for which the students are paying for and dependent on.


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