Comment Writer Danielle Murinas reflects from her position as a final year student and discusses her thoughts on the university’s no detriment policy
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Kathy Armour, announced that the university will adopt a ‘no detriment policy’ when it comes to student assessments for the remainder of this academic year. First and second year students have had all remaining exams cancelled, meaning only final year and masters students are affected by this decision. This policy is intended to reduce students workload and supposedly means that any assessments students undertake will not negatively impact their average, and thus their final grade. But in practice, this policy only favours students who have already completed a significant amount of coursework this year. Paired with the poor communication that students have received from the university, the decision they have taken has actually increased students’ stress rather than reducing it.
The nature of this policy is rooted against students with exam-heavy courses. A great deal of courses such as History or Engineering, have much of their assessment in the Summer period through exam form assessment. This means they would not have submitted an adequate amount of coursework to have gained a representative ‘average’. The university has countered this by stipulating that marks from previous years will be analysed to make sure that any anomalous negative grades will not be allowed to alter degree classification, but this undermines students’ improvements over the years. The university has not adequately explained how this will be done, but it would be unfair to assume that work completed in first year was equal to final year work. Taking first and second year grades as guidelines is unfair to students who have improved as they have progressed through university. It is in final year when students reach their potential, when they study modules that they enjoy and find their own style and niche. To use a first grade as an ‘average’, is unfair as this no longer represents their ability.
Shamefully, the communication between students and the university has been completely inadequate. Final years and masters’ students have been left largely in the dark about how the final months of their degree will unfold. Information has been given in drips, with dates to when information will be released changed continually. Students in the School of History and Cultures were told they would have to wait no longer than the 3rd April to receive information, a date which was then changed to the 8th April. Of course, there are policies that need to be ironed out at the management end, but leaving students in the dark is unfair. This is already an extremely stressful time for everyone involved, but these students have been working for three to four years in the build up to the next few months, and having no knowledge on how this will work is causing a great deal of stress.
The information and guidelines which university has given out has also proved contradictory to recent decisions. During the weeks where students were waiting on a decision, they were told to focus on outstanding coursework. But in ‘personalised emails’ that were sent out, students have been informed that they need not complete modules that they have been doing coursework for. A History and Politics student told me that they were told that an essay she has worked hard on is now rendered unnecessary. After following guidelines that the university themselves laid out, students are now facing the realisation that they have wasted time and effort on assessments that they need not complete. They have been told that they can still submit this, but again that puts them under increased amounts of stress and pressure. This is an unnecessary situation, which has put further anxiety on students, which the university must take some account for.
In reverse, students have also been told they have to complete modules they have had no contact with. Another final year student told me that they have been told they must complete their philosophy dissertation, as well as her history one, despite having had only one meeting via skype, with the module being affected by both strikes and COVID-19. The decision to complete both was made under the assumption of a normal academic year, and students are being penalised for decisions they made under very different circumstances. The university is not allowing joint-honours students to change the dissertation trajectory and move to one 20 credit dissertation and replace it with another module which has already been partially completed. There has been little flexibility in terms of which modules students should complete, due to learning outcomes that have not been stipulated to us. Understandably, there must remain some form of academic integrity, but forcing students to complete projects with limited access to library resources and tutor support is undermining the term of ‘academic integrity’, which some students feel they have not taken into account.
Of course, credit must be given to staff who are trying their best for their students in an impossible situation. University staff have been working tirelessly to come up with a solution that fits all students, but the matter is that a blanket policy will not work best for all students. But unfortunately, through setting impossible deadlines for themselves, the university has handled the situation in a way that has caused severe detriment to students despite seemingly trying to reduce stress with their ‘no detriment’ policy. Instead, a more flexible solution should have been taken, which would allow all students to reach their full potential and achieve a degree classification they are proud of. Instead they way the university has handled the situation has caused severe detriment to students.
We reached out to the university for a comment but received no reply.
Check out some recent Comment articles relating to the Coronavirus: