Uncertain futures for uncertain grades
Comment editor Gaia Neiman explores the uncertainties of the new academic policies perpetrated by the University.
I am a third year undergraduate student, and I have no way of predicting the number of points that will be written on my diploma. Final year grades are worth more than those of any other years, but due to the new methods of examination and teaching, I have not the slightest premonition about how well I am doing.
Last year, this could have been predicted well enough: the safety net policy accounted for all grades achieved up until March, and ensured that everyone who passed the year would be receiving at least their March average. In a statement given on the first week of the second semester (the third semester in which COVID was a factor), assessment guidance has been more confusing than ever.
Students had been hoping for a similar policy to the one adopted in March, but what they received was rather a mixture of similar sounding ‘guarantee(s)’. This will mean taking a ‘consistent approach’ to grade allocations, for examiners to make adjustments for any gradings with ‘significant deviation’ from the student’s average, and to compare marks with previous years.
Guidance was given in such an incomprehensible manner that the group of Students for Academic Mitigation had to publish a booklet to render the policies digestible. Misunderstandings caused immediate backlash in the form of memes on student pages. Many of these pointed out that the complexity of expression may be a technique to distract from the false nature of the claims on the part of the University, as most of the policies were actually already in place before or don’t change much, such as academic mitigation being widely accessible.
I believe that on this latter front, allowing extensions for students regardless of evidence, the university has done well. I cannot perform to the best of my abilities due to the situation, but I at least have the additional time to try. However, by this logic the University of Exeter has replaced actual grade aid with the chance to resit exams with greater ease, for example. This is too little too late, as many people will depend on final grades for job offers to be fulfilled, and if these are not – well that will be upsetting a lot of VISA prospects.
In fact, I believe the ones to be most burdened by this issue are our international students. These students have been isolated from their families and homes for up to a year or even more, many feeling alienated and abandoned by the place in which they invested so much – financially and otherwise. A hefty percentage of them had to spend Christmas alone in Exeter, where morale would be lacking to prepare for January exams. They will obviously be unable to perform in their degrees to a full extent.
I therefore believe that more should be done for these students. It is true that there would be less motivation for students stuck indoors for the incumbent lockdown to work hard if there was such a permissive policy as an all-out safety net. However, with the lacking ability to provide mental health coverage and an apparent lacking impetus on the part of the university to afford any sort of fee reduction (even to those students studying from China or South Africa who have probably never even set foot in Exeter and are paying £20,000 per annum), there should at least be greater cooperation with students.
I believe that there are better options that can afford for motivation and hard work to remain, while also being more responsive of student needs. One of these could be a subjective assignment of grade safety nets, for such international students for example, due to the turmoil that they are being subjected to. Practical degrees should benefit from such additional assistance, too, such as drama, or sciences that should be receiving lab time. Another option could be extensions of exams during, or even a universal ‘pass’ to final years due to the lacking research opportunities and contact hours for their dissertations.
My hopes, like those of most of my colleagues, don’t look likely to be realized anytime soon. The campus group Students for Academic Mitigation have been pursuing such negotiations, proposals and constant outreach that have only left representative Jake Myers more disillusioned than ever.
‘they persist in pursuing policies that are best for them and their reputation, instead of representing those who are at risk of losing out on their futures.’
He tells me that there is a lacking cooperation with this independently created group, frustrated from the way things are going in comparison to other universities in the UK. ‘Exeter’s response has been frustratingly slow’, he says, while administrations at the University of Leeds, for example, have already been putting more rigid, tangible student academic mitigation systems in place.
And rather than hearing students out at such a difficult time, they rebut calls for help manifested through a COVID-friendly, online peaceful protest, by calling us students ‘cyber-terrorists’ for flooding administrative emails.
‘Finally, the lack of respect that some members of administrative staff have shown for students asking for help was in black and white for everyone to see.’
Jake saw that the efforts the university has been making to respond to S4AM were merely to suit their PR, and that the response to this protest has certainly rectified the University’s image. Students have the right to self-expression, and making such a profound allegation which is so distant from real judicial definitions of cyber-terrorism has demonstrated to campaigners like Jake that this university has felt nothing but contempt for the real, pressing needs of their students. The good news for students? There are groups like S4AM that will ‘keep the pressure on’.
Exeposé has reached out to the University of Exeter for comment and awaits response.