Student open letter to Vice-Chancellor disputes absence of non-detriment policy to protect students
Students at the University of Exeter have written an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Prof. Lisa Roberts to dispute the University’s decision not to introduce a no detriment policy. The open letter as of the 12th of November has 959 signatures.
The open letter outlines the many difficulties faced by a range of subjects including the humanities, biological (and other) sciences, and Politics and International relations students. They also discussed the difficulties faced by students undertaking their Industry Placement Year. The open letter includes several testimonials of how covid-19 has impacted students’ studies. Some include and are not limited to those below:
“In Economics last year I would get two one-hour lecturers as well as a one-hour seminar per module. I now receive a one-hour video lecture, which often runs on and takes me longer to go through, and a stilted zoom seminar, with poor attendance and a stiff conversation.”
“They are expecting the same standard of work from us when things are obviously different. Two contact hours a week is completely unfair, what exactly are we paying for? Our year has been so badly affected by strikes and now by COVID. You’d think they would be doing more to protect our grades.”
The letter discusses Dr. Darren Schreiber at the University of Exeter’s research on “Attendance and Final Grades” highlighting the impacts of online learning on students’ grade outcomes. While they acknowledge the work by lecturers and seminar leaders to maintain academic standards stating “It is true that in some cases, lecturers and seminar leaders have taken it upon themselves to schedule extra classes to make up for lost lesson time, and some are running additional classes for those unable to attend the limited in-person classes do to self isolation” they go on to state “this is still not enough”.
A statement by the university reinstated that there will still be no benchmark non-detriment policy this academic year, as they aim for the end of year results being based largely on work taken place within the academic year of students appropriate level of study for their course. They stated: “We cannot create a benchmark now for the whole year based on last year’s performance alone, or based on qualifications obtained outside Exeter (1st years and postgraduates with no University of Exeter record of achievement), because that would risk undermining our academic standards and the value of our degrees.”
The university emphasised its commitment to student’s academic success and maintaining the value of a degree from Exeter.
Despite the absence of a benchmark non-detriment policy, the university outlined the protection that will still be in place for students this academic year. Through continuing the self-certification mitigation policy they aim to still give students the choice and control of when they complete their assessments. To ensure parity between current and future students module marks will still be scrutinised by Assessment and Awarding Committees (APACs – exam boards). They also emphasised the scrutiny of individual student marks stating “our exam boards already have the authority to recommend adjustment for individual students, where there is clear evidence of the deleterious impact of extenuating circumstances on academic performance”.
They also assured that the Assessment, Progression, and Awarding Committee Working Party (including Students’ Guild and Students’ Union representation) will still be scrutinising the exam board processes and aim to grow student involvement to review the current approach.
Bella Enoizi, author of the open letter states that Professor Tim Quine “was kind enough, along with other key members of staff and Penny Dinh the Guild VP for Education, to meet with myself and other student representatives forming part of the group Students For Academic Mitigation in advance of the email being sent out.”. During this meeting, they discussed the issues they have with the current policies and why they believe a new policy should be developed.
Bella states “offering resits at the end of the year will be too little, too late” as marks will have been lost throughout the year. While acknowledging the usefulness of extensions, Bella states that resits will shift the blame for potential lower grades onto students rather than the exceptional circumstances they face.
Highlighting the change in the quality of teaching she states: “If there was no advantage to the education style we are used to, then there would be no demand for universities such as Exeter and everyone would go for the much cheaper option of an Open University education”.
“The mental health crisis that is arising from the pandemic is well documented and reported in the media. Expecting that your students will not have been affected by factors outside of the classroom is ridiculous, and therefore measures inside the classroom need to be implemented”
Bella states that while the non-detriment policy last year “provided peace of mind” it rightfully did not ‘boost’ peoples marks and with teaching affected since the beginning of term this time, students need protection while the academic world adjusts as grades will be “unavoidably impacted along the way”.
While there are many factors contributing to the difficulties students face Bella emphasised that the “University has a duty of care to its students and I believe implementing robust mitigation policies to protect against every factor that will have an impact on our academic achievement in the current circumstances are a huge part of this.”
Editor: Elen Johnston