The University of Exeter’s mitigation procedures have been accused of leaving students “in limbo”, with increasing concern being raised over their effectiveness.
Numerous students have contacted Exeposé about their difficulties in gaining mitigation from coursework and exams-with one student’s photograph taken from his hospital bed moments before he was rushed into surgery labelled insufficient evidence by the University.
John Chilvers, a third year student, was rushed to hospital earlier this year suffering from appendicitis. His kidneys then failed, leading to a 14 day hospital stay, and since then almost daily hospital appointments since then. After missing two coursework deadlines and a presentation due to his serious illness, the Politics student tried to apply for mitigation from his hospital bed.
Speaking exclusively to Exeposé, Chilvers spoke of how let down he felt by the University’s treatment of his case:
“They added additional stress and worry at a time when I needed their support. When I called out to them to ask for help I felt like I was being treated as if I was a liar. I wasn’t treated as a student in need- the whole process was dehumanising and lacked any kind of human compassion.
“The focus of a college office should be to look out for the welfare of their students, not to bombard them with endless forms and threats when they are at their most vulnerable.”
“They added additional stress and worry at a time when I needed their support.”
There is currently no central mitigation department, with applications handled on an individual basis by the student’s relevant academic college. The University’s Guidance to Mitigation committee’s states there may be “sound disciplinary or organisational reasons for variations in Colleges’ mitigation procedures.”
Other students have also questioned whether the University is doing enough to help students. Second year Maths student Becca Hanley was forced to interrupt her studies from March-September 2015 due to undiagnosed anxiety and depression. After suffering from a panic attack in an exam, in which she didn’t perform well, the University told Hanley that unless she received 80 per cent in her summer exams and performed exceptionally well on her resits, she would not be allowed to continue with her 4years Maths course, and would have to switch to the three year BA.
Other students have also questioned whether the University is doing enough to help students
“I got diagnosed and the doctors said it was something I’d be suffering with for years- but the college didn’t care and wouldn’t let me apply for retrospective mitigation”, Hanley said.
University guidelines state that retrospective applications for mitigation will only be considered in exceptional circumstances where there are compelling reasons why the mitigation was not made at the time.
However, Hanley told Exeposé that “there was no support”, leading her to subsequently restart the year in September 2015. Since returning to her studies, Hanley has found obtaining mitigation difficult.
“I got told by a member of staff that I should really think about whether my degree was really ‘for me’. My personal tutor doesn’t care; he never asked how I was doing or checked up on me.”
In a statement to Exeposé, the University said many students receive “considerable support” outside of mitigation from their personal tutor.
Confusion over support to students studying on a year abroad was also expressed. One anonymous third year student claimed there is little recognition of how university systems may differ abroad in dealings with mitigation.
After applying for mitigation following a close relative’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and the death of another family member, the student described the University mitigation process as “awful.”
“Their general attitude to handling study abroad students is lax. Exeter did not get in touch with my host university at all; there are no institutions in place to accommodate for students abroad.”
“Several months later when my family member succumbed to their terminal illness, I did not even bother contacting Exeter. The University as a whole let me down.”
“The University as a whole let me down”
A University spokesperson said: “We recognise students can sometimes suffer from illness or other adverse personal circumstances which affect their ability to complete an assessment. These mitigating factors are taken into account and any student needing help is treated with compassion, sensitivity and due care, and given one-to-one support.
“Mitigation is used for extraordinary circumstances only and the University needs appropriate, verifiable and independent evidence to be able to do this. This ensures students are treated fairly, consistently and transparently, and that any decision taken protects the academic standards at the University of Exeter. These policies are regularly reviewed.
“As part of its on-going quality assurance procedure, the University is currently scrutinising its guidance on mitigation. Next term the Taught Faculty Board will be considering recommendations from a group composed of students, academics and professional services staff.
“We cannot comment on individual cases, but tutors and other members of staff would be happy to discuss with students any concerns they may have about the mitigation process.”
Bethan Jones, VP Education commented: “Mitigation is an important procedure to support students experiencing significant personal difficulties to manage their academic work. It isn’t always clear how each college operates its mitigation procedure and more could be done to signpost students to clear information.”