Implement a No Detriment Policy at The University of Plymouth
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Dear Vice Chancellor Professor Judith Petts,
This is an open letter to the University of Plymouth from its 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.
Whilst we appreciate that the University is facing a demanding set of circumstances to adapt to and has been very helpful to us students, we believe it has not done enough. Last summer the no detriment policy was introduced because we were in a national lockdown but this has not been carried forward to this academic year. We were asked to come back to University in September to continue our studies with a blended learning approach, we did so with no protest even when we are still paying the same tuition fees as last year with much fewer contact hours. Quality has undisputedly been affected by this online education, from screen sharing malfunctions, audio loss, Wi-Fi connectivity issues etcetera, through no fault of students, lecturers or the University. With less contact hours and more pre-recorded lectures, the emphasis on more independent study will no doubt negatively affect many student’s academic achievement but also deteriorate out mental health due to more stress and less support.
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.*
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? First year students arrived on campus faced with inconceivable challenges inside and outside the classroom. Students supposed to be abroad have suddenly found themselves much further along their planned timelines and are scrambling to adjust both to the importance of their workload and, in some cases, to unforeseen living circumstances – made more relevant with the new lockdown measures. Third year students are under expected, yet immense, stress due to the weight of the importance of this year for them. While the mental health crisis that is arising from the pandemic is equally worthy of address, this is not the purpose of this letter. However tangible, concrete recognition for the incredibly difficult circumstances personally and academically faced by your students in the form of protective policies, is.
Wales has already cancelled next year’s A level and GCSE’s and alternative assessments being provided, the rest of the UK will surely follow. Yet once again, in relation to University students- in particular second and final year students, this has not been addressed. Not only has this not been addressed, but many fee-paying schools in the country have offered reduced/refunded fees in recognition of the loss of teaching time, inaccessibility of facilities and their own reduced running costs, no such action has been taken for students around the country. We expect more to be done to make this financial – as much as academic – undertaking worthwhile, as many of us face the possibility of leaving university with results below what we deserve and would have been capable of were the circumstances typical. In short, we want your protection and support through the inevitable teething problems that come with such a huge transition, in the form of a safety net and a ‘grace’ policy.
The Students of the University of Plymouth
*Thank you to the Students at The University of Exeter for collecting this extremely useful information to help our joint causes in implementing a no detriment policy.
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