Students petition Durham University to implement exam mitigations

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Durham University is under increasing pressure to introduce further mitigation measures for this year’s exams and assessments after the recent announcement of a full national lockdown that will last until at least mid-February.

An Open Letter has been sent to Durham University’s Executive Committee (UEC) from the Students’ Union Association Presidents and has received over 2,000 signatures.

The Open Letter reads: “The Durham University student community are writing to you to express our anxieties and concerns regarding the third lockdown. We believe that the disruption caused thus far in 2020/21 has not been adequately addressed by the University and that this will lead to adverse impacts on student mental health and academic performance.

“We all acknowledge the difficulties that have been caused by the pandemic and the toll it has taken on various parties, however, at the heart of it all, students have been constantly neglected by changing advice and a sub-optimal University experience.”

The Open Letter asks for several mitigations in light of this scenario including, but not limited to, significantly refunded fees for the year 2020/2021, a return to the no detriment policy from 2019/2020, an increase from 24 hours to 48 hours for exams mirroring last year’s policy, and a delay on all imminent formative and summative deadlines.

Jamie Halliwell, President of Working Class Association, told Palatinate:  “The decision by the university to not implement a no detriment policy is utterly abhorrent. Working class students have been disproportionally affected by Covid making a tough year even worse. Having restricted access to key texts and suffering from digital poverty means working class students are having to put in twice as much effort to simply keep up with students with stable access to resources and working environments.

“The lack of a no detriment policy essentially puts working class students in a position where they are being punished by the university simply by not having such stable backgrounds prior to university. It must be noted too that many working-class students have had to still working in essential services during this pandemic thus adding another level of disruption. WCSA severely condemns the university for this and implores them to change this immediately”.

A change.org petition was also launched on Thursday 7th January by Joe McGarry and has over 1,900 signatures. The petition is based on the previous successful petition in 2020 by Jack Flier and calls for a similar no-detriment policy to last year’s one.

A ‘no detriment’ 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.

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).

These petitions come at a time in which Russell Group released a statement last Thursday in which it announced that it would not provide safety nets for its exams this year due to “the scarcity of pre-pandemic benchmarking data available for many students”, and out of “duty to all students to protect academic standards and uphold the integrity of our degrees.”

The University of York has already broken rank with others in the Russell Group universities and announced that it will reinstate a no-detriment policy.

Oxford and Cambridge, however, have both announced they will not be implementing no-detriment policies.

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