Over 660 external examiners resign nationwide amid threats to exam season

By Clara Gaspar

Over 660 members of university staff nationwide have resigned from their positions as external examiners for the upcoming exam period.

“Considering that Durham University Vice-Chancellor didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge and respond to my resignation as external examiner, a good week later I very much doubt I will reconsider even when the dispute is over.”

The resignations of academic staff have been recorded in a document circulating online. Nine external examiners for Durham University’s upcoming exam season are included on the list.

This action, intended to cause maximum disruption to universities and students, could result in postponed exams and delayed graduations.

Helen McCarthy of Queen Mary University of London tweeted her resignation as one of Durham University’s external examiners: “With a heavy heart, I have resigned as external examiner for Undergraduate History programmes at Durham University.

“I do this in support of strikes to defend pensions and because I care deeply about protecting teaching quality and research excellence in our sector.”

In addition, 14 members of those resigning are Durham University’s own staff, who examine for other universities including Cambridge, Newcastle, Bangor and Bristol.

These resignations are a result of a call on the 16th March by the University and College Union (UCU) for academics to resign as external examiners at the 64 institutions involved in the ongoing pension dispute.

In this appeal to external examiners published on its website, the UCU wrote: “In order to increase the pressure on employers at USS participating institutions, UCU is appealing to all members who currently hold external examiner positions at those universities to resign from any such position they may hold”.

However, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah questioned the legitimacy of the threats to students’ exams : “Under the UCU current mandate for strike action – they have no remit to directly disrupt students exams.

“However, as I have already made clear – no student’s future prospects should be put at risk as a result of this dispute and providers should be taking steps to minimise any disruption or impact on their students’ studies.”

This comprised yet another stage of intensifying industrial action in response to government plans to amend the section of the Universities Superannuation Scheme that guarantees UCU members a particular sum of income in retirement.

The UCU calculated that these proposed changes to the scheme could leave an average lecturer £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

Peter Kruschwitz, one of Durham’s external examiners from the University of Reading expressed his frustration at the lack of response to his resignation from Vice Chancellor Stuart Corbridge.

He said: “Considering that Durham University VC didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge and respond to my resignation as external examiner, a good week later I very much doubt I will reconsider even when the dispute is over.”

If an agreement is not reached, further university-wide strikes are planned to coincide with the exam and assessment period.

Photograph by Durham Student-Staff Solidarity

One Response

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  1. ds
    Mar 24, 2018 - 01:08 PM

    “However, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah questioned the legitimacy of the threats to students’ exams : “Under the UCU current mandate for strike action – they have no remit to directly disrupt students exams.”

    Except they’re not. That’s the point. It does not stop the exams going ahead. It does even stop them being marked. They just can’t be signed off by exam boards until they find another external willing to do it. And the appointment of an external examiner is something of a greyer area. It is generally personal, not specifically institutional, so the external examiner is not necessarily in breach of contract.

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