Durham University announces ‘Academic Safety Net’ policy

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Durham University has announced an ‘Academic Safety Net’ policy in an email to all students for the 2020/21 academic year.

The package of measures for foundation programme and undergraduate level 1-4 includes departments reviewing assessments to ensure marks are not out of line with previous years and students being able to submit an academic impact statement for dissertations, major projects, or other key assessments if they have been adversely affected by academic factors.

The policy also means that students will not be required to provide evidence when requesting a seven-day extension for submitting summative coursework.

Additionally, if a student’s average mark is five or more points below the previous year, their record will be scrutinised for possible Covid-19 effects.

Students are also able to defer examinations until the August resit period if they are ill or caring for someone who is ill. This will be undertaken as a first attempt.

Finalists that narrowly miss out on a higher degree classification, by up to two percentage points, will be automatically considered for promotion under the university’s standard procedures for discretion.

The policy is designed to apply to undergraduate as well as postgraduate students. However, the University will be undertaking a review of the effectiveness of the safety net policy to mitigate the impact on assessment of postgraduate students.

The review will “identify whether any further mitigations would help to ensure that postgraduate students are not academically disadvantaged by the pandemic”.

The email also states that last year’s no-detriment style policy “is neither possible nor appropriate” for this year as the University both believes that this approach allows each student to be treated as an individual as well as “lacks the data needed to create authentic baseline averages”.

“No student’s educational attainment should be worsened as a result of the pandemic.”

Professor Alan Houston

Professor Alan Houston, Vice-Provost (Education), explained the decision by saying that the “Teaching and learning at Durham University have been profoundly affected by Covid-19” and as a result of this “no student’s educational attainment should be worsened as a result of the pandemic.”

Professor Houston told Palatinate: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority and we continue to support those affected by the pandemic.

“We recognise the impact of Covid-19 and the need for an Academic Safety Net to support students fairly while upholding the integrity of their degrees. 

“Drawing on our experience last year, and working in collaboration with Durham Students’ Union, we have identified a range of measures to provide assurance that our students’ educational attainment will not be worsened as a result of the pandemic. 

“After careful consideration, our academic policies and procedures have been amended to recognise individual circumstances, including the mental and physical barriers to study, faced by many.  

“We are incredibly appreciative to students and staff who have invested their time and effort in developing these measures.” 

The policy was created in development with the Academic Officers of the Durham Students’ Union.

An online forum, where students can discuss their concerns with the policy, will be held on Wednesday February 15th at 5pm. You can register online for the forum here.

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