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'It feels like you cannot trust anyone': Students appeal dissertation marks

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Students in DHPA and Social Sciences are appealing their dissertations after being marked by non-specialists

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Graduation was less than a month away, and Nancy’s dissertation had finally been marked.

Nancy (not her real name) is a final year DHPA student who consistently receives high marks, and was confident her dissertation would reflect her hard work and knowledge.

She had frequently met with her supervisor, a specialist in her topic, since the summer of 2022. While Nancy admits her topic was 'niche,' that's the very point of a dissertation, she tells us.

Students are encouraged to study novel topics with a specialist in the field.

What could go wrong?

Then Nancy logged into Blackboard.

She had received a low B. Not a failing score, but far below expectations- especially after receiving a high A on her outline.

Nancy was shocked. Did her supervisor, who had previously assured her she was doing a ‘great’ job, not like her work after all?

An example of what Nancy might have seen when logging into Blackboard

The truth, Nancy would discover, was much worse.

A week later, after ‘countless’ meetings and emails, Nancy finally received her feedback- just to discover that her supervisor had not been the one to mark her paper.

She explains: ‘...The marking strike happened and [my supervisor] partook, so the marking of my dissertation was not undertaken by them. Furthermore, I was single marked, and by someone who isn’t specialised in the field my research is in.’

Her supervisor urged her to appeal, which Nancy has done- despite feeling discouraged from challenging her marks by senior faculty in her department.

Nancy's experience is not unique:

‘John,’ a student in the School of Social Sciences, faced a similar experience after receiving his dissertation marks.

He told us:

‘The topic of my dissertation could definitely be described as being “fairly niche.” Realistically, the main person who is qualified to mark it is my dissertation supervisor.’

‘However, due to the assessment boycott, it was marked by someone who was not specialised in that field. There is a large discrepancy between the rest of the marks I have received across my degree and this dissertation mark.’

‘This has potential to change my degree classification,' John adds.

‘Amy,’ who is also considering lodging an appeal, said: ‘I find it so unfair that the code of practice has been changed for our cohort. We were equally affected by COVID-19 if not even worse as those who graduated last year.’

Students' faith in University shaken:

For these students, the University’s new marking policies, which dropped double marking standards and other safeguards, have only made the situation worse.

Members of the University's senior management at a Senate meeting in late May

Nancy, who is in the process of moving house, will attend an appeal hearing next week. Her supervisor has written a letter of support.

However, regardless of whether or not her marks are overturned, Nancy’s faith in the University has been shaken.

'I turned out that [my supervisor] did not grade it, they may never get to grade it even after the strike, someone graded it who shouldn't have, it won't be double graded to ensure fairness, and I won't get feedback.'

‘It feels like you cannot trust anyone,’ she tells us.

The University responds:

In a statement, a University spokesperson said:

'Our academic standards have been maintained, with marking undertaken by colleagues with appropriate expertise which will allow our students to graduate with their classified degrees.'

Student Senator and Law School Convenor Tomas Pizzaro-Escuti presented a different view, telling The Gaudie:

'The University is responsible for pursuing a policy that has in effect damaged the academic integrity of our university. I believe that a big mistake has been made that not only affects the students, but also the reputation of the institution. In the debate in the Academic Senate there were Senators who were very critical of the implementation of this policy and pointed out that some institutions would not accept these degrees.'

'Senior Management must be held accountable for these mistakes, they should have reached a compromise with our lecturers before graduations. I think it would be a mistake to blame the lecturers who are rightly striking to protect their employment rights. The Senior Magnamente played a big gamble the consequences of which are yet to be seen.'

'However, as a student, I must admit that AUSA also made a serious mistake. The sabbatical officers did not realize that the best way to protect students was to show solidarity with our lecturers.'

AUSA pushed back against these comments, however.

In a statement, a spokesperson said:

'As a Union, we support the right of staff to take action to fight for improvements in their working conditions as this means better conditions for students now and when they pursue a career. The current position of the Students’ Union was stablished back in January when our Student Council unanimously voted to continue that support, while drawing a line at marking and assessment boycott.'

'Our student councillors and Student Officers agreed that this action disproportionately affects final year and international students and brings further complications in terms of post-study visa and access to job opportunities. For us it is imperative that all parties do all they can to reach a fair agreement, end the marking and assessment boycott, and remove the need for any mitigations in the first place.'

If you are currently appealing your final marks or dissertation, let us know, we'd love to chat.


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