Durham University is under increased pressure tonight to introduce further mitigation measures for this year’s remaining assessments, after nearly 3,500 students sign a petition asking for the introduction of a ‘safety net policy’.
Earlier, Cambridge University became the seventh Russell Group institution to implement the policy for summative assessment for the rest of the year, mirroring moves by Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Liverpool, Southampton, and Warwick.
The ‘safety net’ policy ensures that a student’s average mark for the academic year is the same as, or higher than, the average mark they had attained up until a given date.
If a student then achieves higher marks in assessments and exams completed following that date, then the student’s average mark for the year would be increased.
In other words, the policy guarantees that a student’s average mark, and in some cases degree classification, will not be negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic – as long as the student still achieves the benchmark 40% mark (or 50% for Integrated Masters students).
The policy has also been adopted by Bournemouth and Northumbria.
The ‘safety net’ ensures that a student’s average mark for the year is the same as or higher than the average mark they had attained up until a given date
Inspired by the University of Exeter’s decision to implement the policy, a change.org petition was launched on Thursday 26th March, lobbying Durham University to act likewise.
Within five days of launching, the petition has been signed by just under 3,500 people, equivalent to 18% of students at Durham.
Similar petitions have been started by students at Sheffield (6,500 signatures), Bath (3,700), King’s College London (3,000), York (2,600), and Manchester (2,200) as well as non-Russell Group universities including Oxford Brookes and Sheffield Hallam.
The petition reads: “This type of mitigating system will help to create more equal results for students being assessed at the University.
“This is because it allows students to achieve a grade which reflects their work under ordinary circumstances, whilst providing an incentive to do well in summer assessments and still giving students who did not achieve their desired grades last term a chance to improve.”
The petition has been signed by just under 3,500 people
Citing student mental health as a key reason to introduce the ‘safety net’, the petition argues that “the university has not done enough to support its students, with many being told their assessments will be carried about in the same way despite the lack of proper teaching or support.
“It is about time Durham did something to protect the welfare of their student body.
“A safety net would alleviate so much pressure and allow us all to focus on what is actually important in our education; learning and bettering ourselves.”
Jack Filer, who set up the petition, said: ” “It’s great to have such a positive reaction. When I set the petition up I never expected the so many people to sign it. It really feels as though the student body has united and I really hope the University can see that.
“Now that these other great universities have followed suit and the student reaction has been the same, if Durham truly seek to help us all out during these unprecedented times then this is how they can do it.
“For finalists we have worked our socks off for 3/4 years all to have everything we are working towards disappear in a matter of weeks. To have all of our hard work protected would mean the world to so many of us.
“It’s not like we are asking for more than we’ve already achieved, we’d still have to take our exams and we’d still have pass all during the biggest crisis any of us have ever experienced which will be no mean feat.
“With so many changes and so much uncertainty, I don’t see how a policy that protects all the effort we have put in can be perceived as a bad thing.”
Despite gaining the support of 3,500 people, reaction to the idea of introducing a ‘safety net’ has been polarized.
A final year PPE student was opposed to the idea of a safety net: “I feel that the majority of students actually benefit from having two days to do each exam and I feel that it’s almost quite lazy to suggest that we should have a safety net.
“It would allow some of us to graduate with 2:1s or even firsts despite not doing any (or little) form of assessment in our final year.”
On the other hand, a final year Liberal Arts student was in favour of the policy, saying: “We are all impacted, to various degrees, by the lack of access to resources and staff, and increased stress levels which make it harder for us all to focus on our studies.
“Many face further challenges in caring for immunocompromised and vulnerable relatives, stepping in for parents who have lost jobs, or living in home environments without privacy and stable wifi.
“Exams should go ahead, to allow students the chance to improve where they can, but no student deserves to see their hard work invalidated, perhaps their future compromised, by work done under these circumstances.”
Earlier, Cambridge University became the seventh Russell Group institution to implement the policy
Many cited an inability to work as normal under the present uncertain conditions. A finalist studying Combined Social Sciences said: ‘Originally I think I saw it more as an opportunity for those sitting on the cusp of a low 2:1 to save them from a dreaded Desmond. But having worked for the last week and a half in a state of uncertainty, both mentally and academically, I welcome the safety net proposal.”
Likewise, a Modern Languages student said: “It will alleviate the stress, likely allowing students to study under better conditions, and potentially improve on the grade that they’d be guaranteed to get.”
Sam Johnson-Audini, the SU Undergraduate Academic Officer, has been lobbying the University for the implementation of a ‘safety net’. In a post on the SU website, Johnson-Audini said: “We are now firm in our belief that in conjunction with the University having a duty to ensure all students have equal access to their assessments, a ‘safety net’ mitigations policy should be adopted.”
“The policy we will be lobbying for is like the model adopted by Exeter University.”
The University is continuing to frequently update students on their response to the coronavirus epidemic, and Palatinate understands that discussions surrounding adverse circumstances are ongoing.
A link for the petition can be found here.
Image by Maddie Flisher