I haven’t got any essays to mark at the moment, but even if I did, I wouldn’t be marking them. This might seem as though it could only hurt my students (if I had any), but in the long term I think it would improve their education, and the education of future students. Academic working conditions have been deteriorating for some time, and conditions for postgraduate tutors are some of the worst that there are. We are expected to put in many more hours than we are actually paid for, especially when it comes to marking essays – would you believe that I am only paid for 20 minutes work per essay marked, including comments and feedback?
This is where the marking boycott comes in. Students frequently ask for more comprehensive feedback on their essays, and we would all love to improve this, but there’s only so much we can do in 20 minutes. This time you might not get any feedback at all, but if we can put pressure on the university and fight for better working conditions, then you are bound to get much better feedback in the future. In the meantime we can at least continue to teach you, which after all is (hopefully) what you are here for. This is why a marking boycott is sometimes preferable to a full strike – the university suffers, but you continue to get an education.
So, if you’re a student, ask your tutors and lecturers if they’re going to be joining the marking boycott, and let them know that you fully support them if they do. If you’re frustrated about not getting any feedback, get in touch with the university directly and tell them to support their staff properly. And if you’re a tutor or lecturer, carry on teaching classes but don’t mark a single piece of work until this dispute is resolved.
(Joe Dewhurst, Philosophy PhD student, occasional tutor, and previously an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh)