The Russell Group of leading British universities, including Durham, announced that they would not be offering a ‘no detriment’ policy to current students who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this will affect over 446,000 students who have been told not to return to their universities, the Russell Group released a statement claiming that introducing similar policies would not be “necessary or appropriate this year”.
The decision has been criticised by a number of students and petitions have been widely circulated across several universities as a result, requesting their universities to implement similar ‘no detriment’ and ‘safety net’ policies to the ones seen last academic year.
Universities such as Lancaster, Bristol, and Edinburgh — to name a few — have all seen petitions created in order to put pressure on their institutions and a national ‘SAVE OUR GRADES’ petition has amassed over 20,000 signatures.
Durham’s petition, started by Joe McGarry, argues that “online learning cannot act as a substitute for practical experience; Durham’s outstanding academic reputation is largely based on unique provisions for hands on experience, which just can’t happen this year.
“In a normal year, if any student had experienced the stress and lack of social connection which has been collectively imposed by the pandemic, they would be considered for academic mitigation through an SAC form at the very least. Last year, the no detriment policy gave students confidence that their degree was not hanging in the balance, and this lack of pressure led to many of them improving on their previous grades. This year has undoubtedly been more disrupted than last year.”
The University of York became the first Russell Group to offer their students a ‘safety net’ package following mounting pressure from their student body, including a petition started by the York University Student Union’s Working Class and Social Mobility officer.
York have stated that they will be reviewing the performance of this year’s cohort against previous years to ensure that the pandemic has not had a detrimental impact. This involves a review by the university’s Board of Examiners across both an individual student’s marks as well as modules and programmes more broadly.
They have also offered their second and final year undergraduates the ability to have their degrees weighted differently: this would allow their students’ most successful year to hold the most weight in the calculation of their overall degree.
Additionally, York has waived the need to provide supporting evidence and the need to explain why that supporting evidence is not available when applying for exceptional circumstances in assessments.
Since then fellow Russell Group universities, Cardiff and Newcastle, have followed suit and confirmed they will also be offering their students a safety net.
Cardiff and Newcastle have said that student grades will be compared to the standards of previous academic years and may be scaled up to ensure students are not at a disadvantage. They have also announced that they will be adjusting their extenuating circumstances policies to allow students the ability to self-certify in order to gain extensions on assessments.
In a statement on the 12th of January, the Durham Student Union (DSU) have called for the University to adopt a safety net policy which is not dissimilar to the allowances granted to York, Cardiff and Newcastle students.
The DSU have called for a more lenient ‘near miss’ policy, meaning that a student who is close to the grade boundary could have their marks rounded up in a more generous manner than in normal years and have also called for extensions to be awarded without the usual need for evidence such as a doctor’s note.
The full list of proposed suggestions to the University can be found here.
DSU President Seun Twins announced that the University has agreed that “a plethora of mitigating circumstances policies and academic insurance policies is a moral imperative for ALL students who are learning under this pandemic” and is agreeing to work in collaboration with the DSU to provide a safety net for students.
By doing so, Durham has joined the likes of UCL and Liverpool in agreeing to review their ‘no detriment’ policies for this academic year by working in collaboration with their student unions.
A final policy on the student safety net for 2020/21 is expected to be announced soon.
Image: Katie Tobin