Assessments Cut as University ‘Changes the Work’

The University is set to impose wide-ranging changes to modules, assessment and departmental structures in a bid to save money.

Vanbrugh College accommodation
(Image: York Vision)

In a document called ‘Changing the Work’, senior management have told departments to streamline their academic operations in response to financial pressures.

Key changes will include the reduction to a single summative assessment for each module; the cancellation of almost every module with fewer than 10 students; and the dissolution of Boards of Studies, the large committees at the centre of each department. Large numbers of staff have also been offered a voluntary redundancy package.

A University spokesperson said, “like many others in the sector, we continue to face increasing costs and York has moved quickly to manage its finances and put in place a series of strategic measures to return to a surplus, which includes significantly reducing our operating costs, pausing major capital programmes and a voluntary severance scheme.”

Under the academic side of the plans, departments have been told to remove optional modules with fewer than 10 students taking them, with some stopping this September. By the 2025-26 academic year, no modules with fewer than 10 students will run with very limited exceptions, and the number of optional modules in each year will be capped.

Meely Doherty, YUSU Academic Officer, spoke to Vision about this change. She said that the cuts to module choices would not affect many modules, suggesting their quality would improve if departments focussed on a smaller selection. She added, “I don’t see why a student would want to be on a module where there’s only four of them on it, when they could have a class that’s having discussions and debates.” She also pointed out that most humanities departments already refuse to run under-subscribed modules, and that the changes were about applying consistency across departments.

However, Student Representatives have been particularly vocal about the changes in the Maths Department, where there are fears that some 4th year modules will not meet the 10-student criterion due to heavy prerequisites on modules in previous years. Department Rep Stanley Arnold explained, “the MMath [4-year integrated Master’s in Maths] course thrives on its diversity in modules which allow students to bring their four year journey to a close. Unfortunately Mathematics is a subject that needs to get specific to be a successful course and even with increasing popularity this new policy would essentially put an end to it at this uni.”

The University also wants to crack down on what it sees as over-assessment, with departments directed to eventually reduce the number of assessments to no more than one summative per module. They have also been told to standardise coursework word limits and remove all double-blind marking to reduce the staff workloads associated with assessment.

Doherty was cautious about moving to single points of assessment. She said that whilst this is already standard in some departments, “it’s attempting to apply consistency to courses that aren’t consistent across each other”. She told Vision there will be benefits for some students, “reducing their workload at a busy time,” but that some departments could then tend towards assessing solely with exams.

Katie Smith, of York’s University and College Union (UCU), openly criticised the move to single points of assessment, telling Vision “it’ll dramatically impact the student experience, as multiple assessment points allow for students to learn and grow and perform to the best of their abilities in their degrees.”

She implied that the University was prioritising profit over education: “It’s a cost-cutting exercise from management to distance academics from teaching and learning duties so they can have other work piled on them more concerned with profits than students.”

However, a University of York spokesperson assured Vision that these decisions are “part of our teaching and learning continuous improvement plans.”

“We are continually reviewing our portfolio of modules including introducing new opportunities and choices for students, for example through the York Interdisciplinary Modules and our elective provision. We will maintain an inspiring range of modules developed across a range of subjects, departments and faculties, so we can continue to offer opportunities for our students to study beyond their subject and to prepare them for future careers.”

Another change that has caused consternation among academics is the removal of Boards of Studies (BoS) in September 2025. In each department, these committees oversee the courses and modules on offer and actively consult students and academics. They will be replaced by smaller groups, still with student representation, that will have a more clearly-defined focus. 

The UCU has vocally opposed the change, saying in a public statement that it “would act to centralise power and remove what some, including the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, see as unnecessary barriers to changes in the formation and delivery of degree courses”.

Doherty took a different view, saying that BoSs have lost the spirit of their original design, which was to simplify decision-making by having a single place for all departmental decisions. She said that in reality actions are now taken at subcommittees (which would be retained under the plans), and that Boards of Studies only slow things down. “When you’re a student and you are an elected [department or course] representative it can be really intimidating to stand up in front of 90 members of staff”, she said. “In some departments you can have a student raise a problem and it has to go through four or five places, […] I think that getting rid of Boards of Studies can only be good for students”.

The University, like others locally and nationally, is desperate to make savings as it struggles with lower numbers of international students following changes to student visas, as well as the effects of inflation. In an email to staff on the 17th of April, Vice-Chancellor Charlie Jeffery said that the University is aiming to save 6% of its annual turnover, which would equate to £30m per year. The other key reprucussion of the financial issues has been the new Student Centre, but the University have said they will be “ensuring that we protect the most important aspects of our student experience”.

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