Angry students fear they could go home empty handed after striking teachers refused to mark their dissertations and final projects.

Students studying social work at the University of Brighton say they are being used as "pawns" in a dispute between the UCU and the university.

But the teaching union insists there is no other option for the the staff who demand better pay and working conditions.The Argus: UCU union staff on strikeUCU union staff on strike

The cohort of students, many of whom have forked out tens of thousands for their degree, fear they will be short changed and jobless after they are due to graduate in August.

The students, who told The Argus they wish to remain anonymous, could take a pay cut of almost £10,000 as they don't have the required qualifications to become a social worker.

The Argus: University of BrightonUniversity of Brighton (Image: Argus Archive)

One student quit her job in event planning to follow her dream. She said: "When I had my two little girls, I felt so much more passionately about going into social working.

"I saved up and quit my job, and my husband supported me through these very difficult years while I studied for the degree, and now I'm not even sure if I will graduate."

They finished their three-year course in mid May, where they handed in their dissertations and portfolios to their tutors to be marked.

But members of the UCU are embroiled in a row with their employers over pay - and are boycotting any marking of tests and exams.

"We fully support the strike action and the fact our tutors and lecturers need to be paid more, but they are using us as pawns in their game.

"It is not affecting the uni, they’ve got the money from us already - the only people who miss out are us, the students." one mature student said.

After completing the degree, many of the students planned to work for local authorities or the NHS.

Social workers must register with Social Work England before they take up their posts, but the regulatory body requires its workers to hold a social work qualification.

Another student said: "We're all really miffed about it. We'll be unqualified social workers and will take a huge pay cut because of this until we actually get the qualification.

"We've put in all of the work but have nothing at the end of it.

"It has been really stressful trying to meet deadlines when our tutors knew full well that they wouldn't be marking it anyway.

"Social work is all about ethics and values and yet there doesn't seem to be any of that here."


A spokesman for the university said they plan to do "everything" in its power to ensure the students complete their course this year.

"This decision by the local branch of UCU has been deliberately timed to cause maximum disruption to our students during their end-of-year assessments. Understandably, this is of most concern to our final-year students as they look ahead to graduation next month.

"We are doing everything in our power to ensure all our students are able to progress and complete their course, including those who will be graduating this summer, and we are aided in this by the majority of our staff who remain committed to supporting our students."

The Argus understands the university has worked with local authorities to ensure the strike action does not impact students holding an offer of employment in social work, even if their results are delayed.

Branch secretary for the UCU at the University of Brighton Ryan Burns said: "There is one thing stopping the students from graduating and that is management’s refusal to negotiate.

"There is actually massive support for our action as students appreciate how our working conditions are their learning conditions."