University exams this year could be thrown into chaos as external examiners appear to be in short supply following a mass exodus.

According to Times Higher Education, universities across the UK are now ‘scrambling’ to make contingency plans as academics refuse to take part, or quit, roles as external examiners in solidarity with the ongoing strike action over the USS pension dispute and pay and working conditions.

After a ‘steady stream of resignations’ flooding in over the past few weeks, universities are reportedly investigating the use of emergency measures – some of which could bypass the use of external examiners altogether. Some critics say this could ‘devalue’ degrees as assignments are subject to less scrutiny.

‘Workloads have become intolerable’

Professor Matthew Paterson, expert in international politics at the University of Manchester, told the publication he has resigned as an external examiner for Lancaster University.

‘I think people are doing it for two interrelated reasons; it does have a potential pay-off,’ Professor Paterson said.

He added: ‘You could actually achieve something that the strikes themselves don’t seem to be doing. If you have a few institutions failing to award degrees, that could be quite an interesting crisis.

‘The other bit of it is desperation really: I can’t do it any more, I don’t have the goodwill to work for minimum wage for that sort of work. The workloads across the board have become intolerable. Looking ahead to June, I have no idea where I will find that week to do the work.’

Similarly, professor of Spanish at the University of Sheffield, Philip Swanson said he too has resigned from external examiner positions, this time at the University of Birmingham and the University of St Andrews.

Professor Swanson asserted that he was ‘no militant’ and this was his first time taking industrial action, noting that he’s been ‘slightly radicalised’ by the past decade of changes in academia, highlighting a ‘lack of emphasis on academic values.’

He added: ‘I’m 62, so in some ways I’m not doing this for myself as I haven’t got that long to go. But it is really about the future of my profession and discipline and the quality that is going to be on offer to future students.’

‘Essential to university business’

Professor Fiona de Londras of the University of Birmingham’s law school said in Tweet: ‘It is time for external examiners across UKHE [UK Higher Education] to resign’

‘The role is paid very poorly but it is essential to university business. Even people who struggle to go on strike can do this much, and it is a practical way for colleagues working outside of UKHE to show solidarity.’

Around 20,000 external examiners are needed each year – but even a few hundred protestors could have a big impact on university assessments and degree ‘valuation’, already struggling due to the impact of online learning.

Senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, Meredith Warren, has kept track of the resignations so far this year – as of April 13, there have been nearly 300.

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