Why We’re Not Grading Exams

After a successful two-day walkout of faculty across the United Kingdom led by the University and College Union, more than 1,000 scholars have resigned from their roles as external examiners, who are contracted to sit on exam boards at other universities to review students’ work and sign off final grades.  A UCU spokesperson told The Guardian: “We’ve been inundated with calls from members who are resigning from their external examiner posts. It’s now in four figures and we are expecting more to come.”  There are an estimated 20,000 such examiners.  The following is the text of a letter signed by 50 professors who serve as examiners at a variety of British institutions explaining their action. 

We write as external examiners whose role is to assure the quality of higher education courses at universities and colleges across the UK, but who have decided to resign in order to support the campaign for fair pay in our sector. We have resigned because, while as senior academics we believe our role in underpinning the quality of education provided to students is vital, we are all too aware of the unfairness of the current pay policies of our universities and their impact on staff and their students.

We have watched with sadness the pay of academic and professional staff fall in real terms by 14.5% since 2009; we have seen the numbers of casual staff proliferate; and seen universities do little or nothing to reduce the shocking gender pay gap despite having a collective surplus of £1.85bn. Yet the final straw for many of us is the contention by our employers that the latest final pay offer of 1.1% is “at the limits of what can be afforded” when at the same time we discover that university leaders have themselves received an average pay increase of 6.1%. The blatant hypocrisy of this position is breathtaking.

We love our work as external examiners not least because it brings us into contact with academics from around the country. The high-quality work we see confirms to us that staff deserve better from institution heads. We have therefore resigned from our external examiner posts and will not be taking up new posts in order to demonstrate that there will be no “business as usual” until we have a commitment from our universities to fair pay in higher education.

We recognise that this is a significant step for any professional to take but urge other external examiners to follow our lead.

Professor Richard Taffler Warwick Business School, University of Warwick
Professor Cathy Urquhart Manchester Metropolitan University
Professor Tony Evans Royal Holloway, University of London
Professor Florence Myles University of Essex
Professor Heiko Balzter University of Leicester
Professor Daniel Katz University of Warwick
Professor Robert Miller Queen’s University Belfast
Professor Christian De Cock University of Essex
Professor Glen Jeffery UCL, Institute of Ophthalmology
Professor Thomas Munck University of Glasgow
Professor Jeremy Guggenheim Cardiff University
Professor Cam Donaldson Glasgow Caledonian University
Professor Deborah Mabbett Birkbeck College, University of London
Professor Emma Clery University of Southampton
Professor Willy Maley University of Glasgow
Professor Jim Newell University of Salford
Professor Mark Humphries Swansea University
Professor George Kernohan University of Ulster
Professor Martin Conboy University of Sheffield
Professor Ingunn Holen University of Sheffield
Professor Laurie Stras University of Southampton
Professor Laura Lewis University of Southampton
Professor Raymond Bush University of Leeds
Professor David Clarke Newcastle University
Professor Keith Attenborough The Open University
Professor Tess Ridge University of Bath
Professor Melanie Simms University of Leicester
Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex
Professor Adam Rutland Goldsmiths, University of London
Professor Malcolm Povey University of Leeds
Professor Rolland Munro University of Leicester
Professor Stephen Salter University of Edinburgh
Professor Paul Johnson University of York
Professor Harriet Bradley UWE Bristol
Professor Susan Page University of Leicester
Professor Dominique Laurence University of Manchester
Professor Dominic Wring Loughborough University
Professor Richard Saundry Plymouth University
Professor Eleanor Spaventa Durham University
Professor Victor Van Daal Edge Hill University
Professor Frederic Fol Leymarie Goldsmiths, University of London
Professor Raphael Salkie University of Brighton
Professor Özlem Onaran University of Greenwich
Professor Claire Squires University of Stirling
Professor John Holford University of Nottingham
Professor Patrick Ainley University of Greenwich
Professor Martin Parker University of Leicester
Professor Richard Worden University of Liverpool
Professor Jenny Pickerill University of Sheffield

4 thoughts on “Why We’re Not Grading Exams

    • Ha! Could be, but I think they are employed to guarantee that standards are maintained universally across the system. Perhaps a much expanded version of the outside evaluators we often use for tenure decisions, etc. But, to be honest, I don’t know very much about the UK system except that faculty rights and academic freedom have been under assault there with great intensity since the Thatcher years.

      • I don’t know much about it either. It may be that they don’t have a regional or type accreditation system comparable to ours and the external reviewers fill part of that role. But I’m really guessing.

  1. The issue at hand is the fact that senior faculty had the backbone to stand up. I know one institution where the dept’s larger funded researchers used their ability to move to influence policy. But that was not in the US.

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