KUALA LUMPUR: In a case that has sent shockwaves across the UK education fraternity, a widespread marking and assessment boycott (MAB) has sparked frustration and concern among thousands of Malaysian graduates who are unable to receive their degrees.

A UK-based education agent said 6,702 Malaysian students attended UK universities in 2022, 6,373 in 2021, and 3,869 in 2020.

Many of them are also affected as strikes by the educators have been going on and off for the past five years.

And now, as British universities prepare for the new academic year in January, 145 institutions of higher learning are grappling with the impact of the unprecedented MAB, with students left in the lurch by teachers and lecturers who are members of the University and College Union (UCU).

They are in a dispute over pay, working conditions and a lack of investment in the education sector.

Last month, BBC News reported: “The boycott began on April 20 and will continue into the new academic year until employers make an improved offer on pay and (working) conditions.”

A 23-year-old Malaysian studying economics at the University of Edinburgh, who wanted to be known only as Rina, said the boycott had disrupted classes, exams and graduation.

“My university cannot say when the situation will be resolved. It is causing frustration and anxiety. It is also difficult to get job offers or pursue postgraduate studies.

“Also, as my international student visa is expiring soon, returning home is inevitable,” she said.

Another student from the same university, Jacinta Morais, 22, said the ongoing MAB has impacted the grading of assignments, causing some universities, including hers, to temporarily halt the awarding of degrees.

“Some of my friends and I received apology letters from our university instead of our degrees after completing our final year of studies.

“It makes us angry and very concerned about job applications and our future as we need to provide for ourselves.

“This outcome has serious consequences for affected students like me. We have paid some £77,000 (RM450,000) in tuition fees. Without my degree, I cannot apply for the graduate visa that I require to stay in the UK. Even my job offer as an economic research analyst based in Malaysia is now uncertain.”

British Council Malaysia head of education Prabha Sundram said it recognises the impact that the MAB is having on students across the UK.

She said the British Council hopes the industrial dispute would be resolved and satisfactory agreements reached as soon as possible with little disturbance to current and graduating students.

“Final-year students affected by the MAB have been given a choice by most institutions to either graduate with a letter of completion of studies, with a full and final degree classification at a later date, or to defer their graduation until they have received their grades,” she said.

While expressing concern about job offers to students, Prabha suggested that the letter of completion of studies be provided to potential employers and other institutions instead of a breakdown of marks and a degree classification.

She claimed some universities even compensated students for the delay.

In response to the ongoing MAB, the British Home Office, which is responsible for immigration, security and law and order, announced graduate visa measures to help minimise the impact on international students, whose exams and graduation have been impacted by the boycott.

Prabha said students who are uncertain of when they will receive their exam results due to the MAB can apply to extend their visas.

“They will be exempt from meeting the academic progression requirements. Sponsors should include a note on the Conformation of Acceptance for Studies that the extension is due to the ongoing MAB,” she said.