Graduating students handed out fake money and refused to shake their chancellor’s hand to protest in solidarity with striking lecturers.

Around 20 students at the University of Sussex tossed the fake money, with their vice-chancellor’s face edited on, or held up cardboard signs saying “solidarity with striking workers” and “pay your staff” when they were graduating from the School of Global Studies on Monday.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at more than 140 universities across the UK have refused to mark exams or assessments since April 20 in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

The Argus: Jess LeighJess Leigh

Jess Leigh, 22, who took part in the protest, said: “We had three years of interrupted learning. First year was online, because of Covid.

“Second year was filled with strikes, third year has also had lots of striking.

“It is kind of quite ironic, we finished our uni degrees, without our papers being marked and no knowledge of when they will be marked.”

The International Development student, from Manchester, said she is uncertain about whether to apply for jobs, scholarships or internships because she has not found out her grade.

The Argus: The Brighton CentreThe Brighton Centre

She added: “I think we’re frustrated, because there’s been no offer of compensation from Sussex, and just kind of empty promises of ‘we’re trying really hard’, but they’re not coupling that with actions.

“It’s really tough to not have that mark. But vice chancellors across the country have the opportunity to fix this and to adhere to UCU’s demand.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said university staff were proud of the Sussex students who used their “once-in-a-lifetime moment to send a clear message to employers”.

Ms Grady said: “Our sector is broken, students are taught by a workforce that is underpaid and chronically overworked.

“They know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions and they blame vice-chancellors for refusing to resolve this dispute.

“Employers need to return to make an improved offer, stop the pay docking and settle the dispute.”

The University of Sussex said more than 3,500 students are celebrating the end of their studies this week and that the atmosphere in all ceremonies has been “joyful and celebratory”.

A university spokesperson said: “Our vice-chancellor, Professor Sasha Roseneil, is continuing to do all she can to influence the national situation and in June, together with the local UCU branch, called for national negotiations to restart.

“She welcomes the talks that resumed last week and hopes for rapid progress towards a resolution.”