No detriment policies for education institutions during COVID-19 crisis

National Union of Students is calling for a national approach to exams, assessment, and no detriment policies this year, following mixed responses from education institutions to students’ petitions for action.

While many institutions are responding positively to students concerns caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and closure of their universities and colleges, a piecemeal approach to examinations means discrimination continues, with those already suffering attainment gaps shouldering further burdens.

Many universities have already announced a no detriment policy, but some institutions are yet to settle on a safety net for students, despite mounting evidence and acceptance of the uncertainty and increased hardship students are experiencing.

Speaking for students Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS vice president for higher education said: ‘Students across the UK are now uncertain of their futures. They face precarious living and working situations, new and increased caring responsibilities and the loss of existing support structures.

‘Many students lack the required technology, working space, and time to succeed, and those with existing childcare responsibilities will find this compounded with the closure of schools.

‘Disabled students are particularly impacted. Those who already find examinations inaccessible face significant disadvantage in online examinations, where some reasonable adjustments cannot be accommodated. The most impacted are already the most disadvantaged.

‘This makes no sense when there are solutions available to help them and all students. We really need responsible and compassionate leadership and support; it’s essential for all students.’

The strength of feeling among all students on this issue is significant, with three in four students concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their degree or course qualifications, with over two in three wanting more information and guidance from government on how their course or degree will be awarded and how this year’s work will be assessed.

NUS has already set out its proposals for the cancellation of all nonessential exams, especially those for students who would progress within an institution for a further year of study.

This is already the policy in many universities and welcomed, but while the bold leadership of these institutions is to be applauded, it begs the question why others are not applying the same approach.

The University of Exeter is one of the institutions which has already made the decision to implement a no detriment policy.

Penny Dinh, vice president for education at University of Exeter’s students’ guild explained that: ‘A no detriment policy acts as a safety net to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far. Put simply, the grade students currently have is the lowest they can achieve.

‘We believe that this is the best solution for both students and staff as we navigate through these difficult times. There are levels of protection in place for all students and an offer of flexibility for them to be able to decide their future.’

Claire Smith added that: ‘In education, we are most effective when we work together, and right now, students and staff in our institutions need all of us in the sector to work in a strong partnership to ensure that students are at the heart of solutions.

‘We know all students are put at a disadvantage because of the impact of COVID-19, and we know a piecemeal approach means discrimination and further disadvantage for those already suffering attainment gaps.

‘I’m sure no one in our institutions or government would want to impact these students further, particularly when there are solutions to hand that can alleviate these burdens, and when some institutions have already applied them voluntarily.

‘Students really shouldn’t have to petition their institutions for fair treatment and assessments. Institutions and government must act to avoid further anxiety, uncertainty and discrimination.

‘We need none essential exams cancelled and no detriment policies nationwide now.’


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