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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Strike hitting some exam students
By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Students enjoying the sunshine
Many students are affected by the lecturers' pay dispute
The sight of students enjoying the May sunshine after lectures is often an idyllic scene.

But draw nearer and there is a real sense of anxiety among many students across the UK this year as they prepare for end-of-year exams and finals.

It's not just the usual exam nerves - a boycott of university assessment by members of the lecturers' unions Natfhe and the AUT, in a dispute over pay, means many students are heading for the exam season with little or no feedback from tutors.

"We've got no idea how we're doing really. I don't know where I'm at," says second-year student at Bristol University Katie Owens, who has not had any work marked or returned since January.

Others fear their exams may be cancelled, only to be sat at a later date, and finalists wonder if their results will be made available by lecturers in time for them to graduate.

Adam Turner
We're entirely in the dark - it's after Easter now and it's still going on
Adam Turner, final year student at Bristol University

Eilidh Anderson, a final-year student in French and economics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, emailed the BBC News website, concerned that her oral examinations had been postponed.

"Finals are stressful enough without the added worry of exams being cancelled," she says.

She now wonders if the action by lecturers will stop her graduating, impacting on her future career.

"I myself have a position at the Royal Bank of Scotland which will start in September 2006 - if I have a 2:1 degree.

"As of yet I do not know if the bank would accept me onto the graduate scheme if I do not gain a degree this June and I know I am not the only one in this position."

'Will I graduate?'

Final-year archaeology student at Bristol University Adam Turner needs 120 credit points from his work this year in order to graduate in July, but he has only had 30 points' worth of coursework returned - two out of 10 pieces of work handed in.

"A month and a half before I finish, and I don't know what I'm going to get - I've no idea," he says.

Adam needs to know if he is on course for a 2:1, because he needs to reach this grade to apply for a place on a Masters degree course.

"We're entirely in the dark - it's after Easter now and it's still going on. It'll be annoying if we don't graduate," he says.

Who is affected by the action, and to what extent, seems to be something of a lottery.

The balance of union membership in each department plays a crucial part - a student under the wing of a department with a high union membership will fare much worse than one where the unions do not dominate.

Katie Davis
It's annoying, especially when we've paid so much for our tuition fees
Katie Davis, first-year at Bristol University

And a student studying for a degree in two subjects, for example, maths and philosophy, may find his or her maths element unaffected, but the philosophy work disrupted.

Even the structure of the course within a given department plays a part: if a student is currently in a year where there is a heavy weight of course assessment, he or she will be worse off than someone studying for the same degree, but in a different year.

The personal position of a given tutor may also play a part, with some offering their students feedback "on the quiet".

The result is sporadic pockets of students affected to varying degrees.

First years bear the brunt

Take dentistry students at Bristol University.

Third, fourth and fifth years have largely escaped the impact of the lecturers' actions because they have moved away from university-based teaching to more practical work in local hospitals.

First years, though, have been hit hard and have not had the results from several preliminary exams sat last term.

Charlotte George
If I needed help with a certain topic, I wouldn't know
Charlotte George

"I'm just annoyed I'm going into the summer exam not knowing what I've got previously," says Charlotte George.

"If I needed help with a certain topic, I wouldn't know. I need the reinforcement to know I'm doing alright, otherwise I panic - and I am panicking."

"We don't know if the work we've been putting in is enough," says Katie Davis.

"It's annoying, especially when we've paid so much for our tuition fees."

These students say their summer hangs in the balance, because they have little idea if they will be called back for re-sits in July.

Supportive nevertheless

But despite the disruption and the added stress, students do seem to be supportive of their lecturers' quest for better pay - even if they question their strike methods.

"I'm sympathetic with them, because their wages are so low," says Bristol history student Ed Caldecott.

Katie Owens
We understand why they're doing it, maybe it's not the best way of doing it, but what can they do?
Katie Owens

Ben Ullmann, who takes up the post of president of Bristol University's student union this summer, believes many lecturers themselves have become uneasy about the action: "I think a lot of AUT members are questioning if this is right - they realise they are affecting a lot of students."

There was hope last week that the dispute may soon be resolved, when two Scottish universities offered their staff a pay rise above the national offer of 3% this year and 3% the next.

But members of the AUT union at St Andrews and Aberdeen rejected the offer.

The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association has since offered 12.6% over three years.

But this has been rejected by the unions. The AUT will debate its next action at its annual conference this week.

Talks held on university pay row
08 May 06 |  Education
Universities pledge new pay offer
03 May 06 |  Education
University goes it alone on pay
03 May 06 |  Education
Talks fail in lecturers pay row
26 Apr 06 |  Education
Academics' action splits students
21 Apr 06 |  Education
Academics reject 6% pay offer
29 Mar 06 |  Education

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