The cost of living crisis in the UK, a result of spiralling inflation already at at 9.6% and predicted to hit over 15% in the next few months, threatens to spill over into Exam Board strikes that could delay GCSE and A Level results for students in the UAE. Exam board markers, facing years of stagnant pay, and with many now visiting food banks, have “had enough.” Oxford AQA, an Exam Board used widely in the UAE for its fair marking practices for international students, is the first of the Exam Boards to confirm a first wave of industrial action, with strikes planned for 29, 30 and 31 July. Average wage rises in the UK are running between 5% and 8%, short of the 9% current level of inflation – and the real average 30% plus inflation rate faced by medium income workers who are hit hardest.
A Level Results are currently due to be released in the UAE on Thursday 18th August with GCSE results following on Thursday 25th August.
No confirmation has yet been received from Oxford AQA whether these first strikes will impact on international students, but the worry is that a new “Summer of Discontent” could see Exam Board worker strikes proliferating as staff, facing breaking point, bring the British education system to a standstill. Teacher unions are currently also balloting for strike action as a result of the storm of cost of living rises leaving many unable to pay their bills and mortgages as interest rates continue to rise. UK inflation rose to a 40-year high of 9.4% in the year to June 2022, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and is predicted to reach 15.2% by the end of the year.
AQA is claiming that it has “robust” systems in place to ensure that exam results are not delayed by this first wave of strikes, but UNISON is threatening “escalation” and other unions “are weighing up options.”
The UAE, whilst relatively better placed, is currently facing inflationary pressures of its own as a result of external factors including the Ukraine crisis, fall-out from the Covid 19 pandemic, global instability and inflationary pressures in the US and Europe. The combined efforts of school regulators, including the KHDA and ADEK, in conjunction with the UAE government and most schools, is helping to manage the cost of living challenges faced by UAE parents by not raising school fees, or in some cases reducing them for the hardest hit families. Reuters reports that:
“Inflationary pressures are widespread across the UAE’s non-oil economy, according to the PMI data, with sharp rises in fuel prices driving up costs for businesses.”
S&P Global Market Intelligence economist David Owen said:
“UAE businesses came under increased pressure from rising input costs in June, as a surge in fuel prices drove the fastest rate of cost inflation in exactly 11 years […] with price rises for customers likely in the coming months.”
For many hard pressed struggling UAE families, and students facing a global mental health crisis resulting from the shockwave of Covid 19, the potential further disruption to examination results piles on even more pressure.
This is a fast developing story and will be updated.
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