‘It felt like the final slap in the face, honestly’. QUB Protest Organiser Discusses Reasons behind Protest

‘We’re doing it peacefully, we’re doing it respectfully, but we’re letting the university know that this is not okay.’

-David Williamson, organiser

‘OUR UNI OUR FIGHT’ was the message outside Queen’s University Belfast on Thursday evening. A cohort of students from Queen’s University Belfast organised a protest to show their frustration at what they say is ‘poor communication and the treatment of students and staff members on the back of a marking boycott’. 

David Williamson, one of the protest organisers, said ‘The talk of a marking and assessment boycott has been rumbling around campus since, at the very earliest, March. It’s now June, it’s now happened and one fifth of all students in our year group aren’t going to graduate properly’. ‘This is meant to be a time where you sit back and relax a little bit. We shouldn’t be here today. We shouldn’t be here protesting to try to get the degrees we’ve worked for’. ‘It felt like the final slap in the face, honestly’. 

David added ‘After being the year group that went through lockdown, online learning, blended learning, we now ended with this, where everything’s still stuck up in the air’. ‘We just want certainty’. 

When asked on the level of communication provided by Queen’s on what would happen this year with graduations and classifications, David replied ‘To be fair to them, they did give us information. They made us aware that this is going to happen. But last week, the Vice-Chancellor’s announcement somewhat downplayed it where the figure given was around 40 will not graduate at all’. ‘Those are 40 students who’s futures are up in the wind, because of a decision of management not to engage with lecturers. The communication has been gradually improving, but it’s a problem that I feel Queen’s has had for quite a long time’. 

David and his team have started a petition with over 240 signatures, as well as an Instagram account, known as @protestqub. David said that ‘I think the best thing it [the petition and the protest] can do is give students a voice. This is something that, to be frank, we felt we haven’t had. To even allow the situation to get to the point where someone saying “only forty students are not going to graduate”. Those are forty students who, were voiceless’. ‘The goal today was to make students hopefully feel we do have a voice. We do matter and the work we’ve done isn’t something that can be swept away under a rug’.

‘Where there is a failure rate of one in five students in our year not fully graduating, in any other organisation or company in the world with a failure rate of one in five, there would be questions asked’. ‘Before today, we honestly felt there would be no questions asked, that there would be no consequence, we would just have to accept it. I hope, if anything happens today, it’s that people feel they can stand up for themselves’. ‘We’re doing it peacefully, we’re doing it respectfully, but we’re letting the university know that this is not okay’. 

A spokesperson for Queen’s University Belfast said: “Our students are at the core of our efforts to resolve the situation. We are working very hard to reduce the impact on those who are affected by this boycott. We have provided information and support from their schools, set up a dedicated helpline and offer extensive wellbeing support for those who need it.

“We are limited in what we can do given that this is a UK-wide strike, but are doing everything we can to resolve the situation. We have reached out to unions and made offers to reach a local agreement in relation to the marking issue but these were not accepted. We will continue to engage in the hope that we can find resolutions.”