Implement a No Detriment Policy for University of the West of England

Implement a No Detriment Policy for University of the West of England

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Joshua Downton-Lewis started this petition to Professor Steve West (CBE, Vice-Chancellor, President and Chief Executive Officer)

Dear Vice Chancellor Professor Steve West,

This is an open letter to the University of the West of England from it's students intended to clearly lay out our concerns regarding the changes to teaching this academic year and to ask that the no detriment policy be reinstated to protect our futures.  

With the Government announcement of 'Lockdown 3.0', universities have been forced to close with immediate effect. This is a repeat of the March 2020 lockdown when the university implemented a ‘no-detriment’ policy for its students. This protected students' grades based on a Pre-Pandemic Average (PPA). We demand the immediate re-introduction of a comprehensive No Detriment policy.

Why is this important?
Students’ emotional resilience has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. A carefully designed PPA will reflect the seriousness of this national health emergency and assess students’ ability based on a set of objective criteria. Importantly, it will still allow for students to hand in assessments and retain any marks that are higher than their PPA.

Boris Johnson announced that it was "not possible, or fair" for A-Level and GCSE exams to continue this summer, as they announced the closing of schools/colleges. Why can’t universities offer the same reassurance? Particularly as the Government has stated that universities must offer "high-quality online education"(1).

There are three main issues:

Quality of Teaching:
Although lecturers are trying their best, they are simply not equipped to deliver virtual teaching to a sufficiently high standard on courses which were not designed to be taught online(2). Seminars thrive on discussion. And many students, particularly the more introverted, or those experiencing Covid-19 related anxiety, find it difficult to participate(3).

Technology:
Poor WIFI and/or lack of study space, means there is no level playing field for students this year, especially those on lower incomes. Disabled students are having accessibility troubles that cannot be rectified in a virtual environment too. Lectures are frequently subject to interruptions as a result of technological problems. And screen fatigue is a well-known issue, with attention spans online decreasing to 15 minutes(4). This is not sustainable.

Mental Health:
This is by far the biggest challenge. Over 50% of students say their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic(5). The is due to a combination of problems: the stress of possibly losing loved ones; having to isolate in cramped conditions while at the same time continue studying; coping with loss of income whilst still being required to pay full tuition fees and rent; and having to endure the crippling anxiety of possibly failing this year due to the lack of a safety net. Even our own Vice Chancellor can see that student demand for mental health services is rising significantly and will only get worse between now and April(6).

Dr Darren Schreiber of the University of Exeter has conducted research on ‘Attendance and Final Grades’ in which he concluded “studies using brain imaging shows there is less brain synchronization as you go from interpersonal interaction to watching something on video”. He found that the difference in average grades of worst attenders and best attenders differed by 20 points, from 43.9 to 65.2. This shows that with each class attended “your final grade goes up by roughly 2 points”. Recap recordings are even specifically cited as less effective than in-person lectures. Whilst it can be argued that attendance is somewhat achieved through recorded lectures and Teams meetings, his paper ‘Evidence from cognitive neuroscience and linguistics suggests inherent limits for online teaching’ further concurs that these online alternatives will intrinsically not provide the same standard of teaching as in-person classes would. He offers several solutions to improve results with these less than ideal online alternatives, including a “five percent of the total course mark with built in grace for technological or health issues”. Such a ‘grace’ policy would go a long way to putting the minds of all students, but in particular final year students, at ease.

We expect to be treated fairly:
We are being disproportionately disadvantaged this year compared to the 2019/20 cohort (who had only a handful of teaching weeks and their final assessment period interrupted, but had a no-detriment policy in place), and cohorts in other years who had no such interruptions. Whilst some adjustments have been made for how we are being assessed, it is still not enough. After 9 months of national anxiety, daunting statistics and various restrictions, life has not gone back to normal and it is unacceptable that we are expected to go on as if it is. Why has the no detriment policy not been implemented to protect our futures?

In discussion with senior members of the policy advisory department at UWE, and a Dean for Quality, Equality, Teaching and Learning, it is evident that you recognise the scale of the problem. And we worked together to develop some potential means of implementing a No-Detriment policy for this academic year. But, initially, this has been rejected. You have our futures in your hands. Please agree to implementation of a fair No-Detriment policy now which gives us the same support as the 2019/20 cohort and protects UWE’s reputation as a centre of educational excellence.

Yours Sincerely, 

The Students of the University of the West of England.

 

Notes:

1 https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/324762
3 For example, many sessions go silent when lecturers ask questions, due to student fears of every stupid question being recorded for everyone "to watch over and over again"... or the fact that the lecturers' line broke up and no one even heard the question. [https://thetab.com/.../the-class-of-2021-are-owed-a-no
4https://www.researchgate.net/.../326943059_A_Learning
5 https://www.nus.org.uk/.../over-half-of-students-mental
6 https://www.theguardian.com/.../universities-call-for

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