Cambridge SU criticises Russell Group decision not to implement safety net

Louis Mian 8 January 2021
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

There have been calls for the university to implement exam mitigation arrangements, following the decision made by the Russell Group, which includes Cambridge, not to introduce ‘no detriment’ policies. Such ‘safety net’ arrangements, whereby students have the security of a minimum class based on previous grades, were in place for last year’s finalists.

Cambridge Student Union sabbatical officers Esme Cavendish and Siyang Wei have explained that the implementation of ‘a no detriment policy would give students the understanding and support which the government has extended to GCSE and A level students’ and noted that ‘there has been consistent disruption throughout the first two terms’ of this year.

On Thursday (7th January), the Russell Group stated that they ‘do not consider that using the same algorithmic approach to provide individual “no detriment” or “safety net” policies, which were introduced by some institutions as an emergency measure at the end of the last academic year, is necessary or appropriate this year.’

They said they had come to this decision because ‘universities are confident that the steps taken this year will ensure all students are given a fair trade.’

While the Russell Group declared against the implementation of ‘safety net’ policies, they did state that their universities ‘will continue to work to mitigate the impact of the pandemic this year, ensuring students are treated fairly with respect to past and future cohorts’ and that individual circumstances ought to be taken into account.

Calling for the University to introduce exam mitigation arrangements, the SU officers noted that in first term ‘many students were yo-yoing between being in and out of isolation’ and that the national lockdown in Michaelmas ‘meant that students were thrown back into further isolation, separating them from friends, family, and support networks.’

‘Despite the University offering blended teaching, for many students the majority of their course has been online. While online teaching has been of a high standard, many students have found it difficult to adapt to a new way of learning.’

Cavendish and Wei further noted that in first term ‘many students (particularly international students) have had to isolation for two weeks before term or on returning to Cambridge or been forced to isolate due to household contact tracing measures.’

‘Second and third year undergraduates have now been affected by the pandemic since Easter term 2020 as they have been travelling between remote study, to University and back to remote learning.’

‘Additionally, with the closing of libraries and archives etc, students are further relying on online reading, resources which may be harder to access and more difficult to spend a long time focusing on.’

In an online open meeting held by the SU this afternoon a number of proposals for exam mitigation arrangements were discussed, including students being permitted to drop a question in multiple papers, students being permitted to drop a paper, and some exams being replaced with portfolio submissions.

It is understood that Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope attended this open meeting, although he did not speak.

Sheffield University, also a member of the Russell Group, has already outlined its position on exam mitigations, stating that exam boards will be required ‘to consider performance against previous years’ averages to ensure that you and your cohort are not unfairly disadvantaged by the impacts of Covid-19.’

‘Departments have been asked to think about assessment load (how much) and bunching (such as making sure you don’t have multiple hand-ins on the same day),’ Sheffield University continued.

Meanwhile, Sussex University has said in an email to students that it has decided to ‘develop a no detriment policy’, with that aim being ‘to ensure that you are not disadvantaged in terms of your final grade through no fault of your own due to the pandemic.’

A petition to reinstate the ‘no detriment’ policy for finalists at the University of Edinburgh has gained over 7,500 signatures at the time of writing, while a comparable petition by UCL students has received support from more than 3,300 students.

Read more at: Resources Document – 2021 Exam Mitigation Policies