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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

Industrial action and impact on student assessment

Date 16/03/2018

Universities and the University and College Union are aware of QAA's longstanding position on assessment practice during industrial action. Our focus is on protecting the student interest, and our position is as follows:

Institutions have contractual obligations to their students but cannot readily meet these if they are unable to assess students in the normal way and award qualifications on the basis of that assessment. 

In such circumstances they will have to decide whether to attempt to meet their contractual obligations, using methods of assessment that they would not normally employ, or breach their contracts, with the potentially serious consequences for the students who will complete their programmes with no assessment or qualification, thus jeopardising their chances of employment and, possibly, their longer-term career prospects. 

If in these circumstances, an institution chooses to continue to assess students and award qualifications, QAA shall expect it to do so taking every measure available to it to ensure that its academic standards are not put at risk and the value of its awards is maintained. 

It will be for the individual institutions concerned to decide if this is possible, and how it might be done. For QAA's part, we would expect to see the relevant parts of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education adhered to, so far as is reasonably practicable. 

If an institution were to assess or award using temporary or interim arrangements, we would expect it to confirm or regularise any decisions at the earliest possible opportunity, using rigorous procedures to do so. 

If an institution were to conclude that it could not reasonably attempt to assess its students and maintain its academic standards in the present circumstances, we would expect it to put in place alternative strategies, in ways that would cause the least damage to its students' interests, to be implemented when the present dispute has been resolved. 

We should hope that it would consult local student representatives on all these matters.

If in future, evidence of institutions not meeting their own standards was to emerge, there are mechanisms for investigating systemic failings. Given the devolved nature of UK higher education, there are variations between nations with the following applying:  the HEFCE Unsatisfactory Quality Scheme in England and Northern Ireland; the HEFCW complaints procedure in Wales; and the QAA Concerns Scheme in Scotland. More information can be found on our Concerns  page.