Message for students: Protecting your learning and academic outcomes - 10 November 2020
We are writing today to reaffirm our commitment to your academic success this year, in the face of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ensuring the enduring value of your Exeter degree. The key points of this message are summarised below, but do please take time to read it in full.
- Last academic year, we took a series of steps in response to the immediate emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, to support continued student engagement with learning and the completion of examinations, to provide reassurance to students concerning their academic outcomes and to maintain the robustness of our academic standards.
- We are committed to our ethos of Success for All Our Students, and, as last year, we have strong measures in place to protect your learning outcomes and success in what we know is a hugely challenging year with the pandemic continuing to affect our students in different ways.
- We explain what is the same this year as last year, what is different and, without the application of an individual safety net policy like last year’s ‘No Detriment Policy’, why you can be reassured that your academic outcomes are protected.
- We have invested in our new blended model of programme delivery, designed with a clear focus on supporting your learning and enabling you to achieve wherever you are.
- We will scrutinise the distribution of marks across whole cohorts and ensure that the profile of academic outcomes is consistent with previous years.
- There are a number of measures available to support individual students, including the self-certification policy for mitigation applications.
- Exam boards have authority to recommend adjustments to marks at an individual level where necessary, and we are reviewing the approach of these exam boards to determine whether the powers need to be revised or reinforced this year.
- We are working in partnership with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union to co-develop any necessary improvements to our approach to mitigation and appeals.
- There are a number of avenues through which you can access support, including through the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union, our Wellbeing Services, and the Success for All Fund.
Protecting Your Academic Outcomes – what is the same as last year and what is different?
Supporting you and ensuring that you are treated fairly with respect to your peers and previous and future generations of students, while also recognising the particular circumstances in which you are studying, is central to well-established and rigorous policies that the University has in place. These are described further below; first we describe our key principles and consistency with last year.
Both last year and this year, our aims are the same and determined by our ethos of Success for All Our Students: to enable you to complete your academic studies in the year, making the advances in learning that are needed on your degree programmes and are expected by employers, and to see you successfully achieve highly-valued University of Exeter qualifications that stand the test of time.
Both this year and last year, a key priority is giving you choice and control over when you take assessments and, therefore, we are continuing the self-certification mitigation policy to respond to your individual circumstances.
Both last year and this year, your module marks will be scrutinised by Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs - exam boards), which look across the distribution of marks that everyone achieves, and ensure that the profile of academic outcomes is consistent with previous years. This is a simple but vitally important step in ensuring parity between year-groups of students in the present and future.
Both last year and this year, end of year results will be largely based on work undertaken within that academic year at the appropriate level of study in the programme. The main difference between last year and this year is that this year we are unable to create a benchmark for each student. The benchmark is what provided the ‘safety net’ for individuals in last year’s No Detriment Policy. Each benchmark was calculated using the record of achievement for each student during that year of study prior to the escalation of the pandemic. We do not have such a pre-pandemic record of achievement for each student in the current year of study. We cannot create a benchmark now for the whole year based on last year’s performance alone, or based on qualifications obtained outside Exeter (1st years and postgraduates with no University of Exeter record of achievement), because that would risk undermining our academic standards and the value of our degrees.
Although the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, the conditions at the start of the 2020/21 academic year are different from those in Spring 2020 in which we were faced with the immediate emergency of the pandemic’s escalation and the imposition of a sudden and unprecedented lockdown. However, as the principles above highlight, a key consistency is our commitment to Success for All Our Students. While it is not possible to implement the specific individual safety-net of the No-Detriment Policy of last year, our well-established core policies and processes will provide you with similar protection, both as a whole cohort and individually.
Protecting outcomes at the student community and cohort level
We now provide more information about the ways in which your learning, achievement and progression will be protected. At the level of the whole student community and module cohorts, there are two very significant measures:
(1) the creation of the flexible resilient blended model that is supporting your learning;
(2) the scrutiny and calibration of module cohort marks.
First, the blended model of degree programme delivery that you are now engaged in is the product of intense planning and substantial additional investment over the spring, summer and autumn, the extent of which is hard to overstate. Vitally, as part of this, assessment design and marking criteria have been adapted to align to the blended model and the conditions in which you are studying. Therefore, all assessed work undertaken will be marked in the context of the current circumstances.
Second, as mentioned above, through our robust processes for scrutinising assessment marks and determining stage and final academic outcomes through exam boards, we are able to ensure that these adjustments to programme delivery have been effective and that the distribution of marks that you achieve is consistent with the pattern of marks awarded in previous years. This is an essential scrutiny process that exam boards undertake, and they have the authority to make adjustments at the level of a module cohort of studentsto ensure this parity of treatment and outcome from year to year.
Protecting outcomes at the individual level
At the individual level, your learning, achievement and progression are protected through two further important measures:
(1) our self-certification mitigation policy;
(2) the scrutiny of individual student marks.
First, you can apply to defer upcoming examinations, or request deferrals or extensions to coursework deadlines, without being required to provide supporting evidence, as we are continuing the self-certification mitigation policy introduced in the Spring. This gives you flexibility to adapt should your personal circumstances at a given moment require it, whether for health, caring, technological or other reasons. We will continue to accept exceptional circumstances as the basis for applications made outside of the normal 24 hour window for application submission. You will continue to be able to withdraw mitigation requests up to three days after examinations (should you feel you have been able to perform to a level that you are happy with). For full detail of our policy regarding mitigation, including how to apply, please see here.
Second, our exam boards already have the authority to recommend adjustments to marks for individual students, where there is clear evidence of the deleterious impact of extenuating circumstances on academic performance. The Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committee Working Party (including Students’ Guild and Students’ Union representation) continues to scrutinise exam board processes and, with expanded student involvement, will be reviewing the approach of the exams boards to determine whether these powers need to be revised or reinforced this year.
Partnership work to review our mitigation and appeals policies
Notwithstanding our confidence in the processes and measures outlined above, we want to be certain that our approach to mitigation and appeals policies and processes are as effective, compassionate and empathetic as they can be, and that they recognise the particular circumstances that some students will face this year. Therefore, at the Education Executive (the senior university education steering group) on 11th November, we committed to working in partnership with students to review our approach to mitigation and appeals, and to co-develop any necessary further improvements. As part of this, Penny Dinh (Students’ Guild VP Education) instigated a meeting which took place yesterday involving a group of student representatives with the DVC (Education) and members of the Education Leadership Team, to begin the discussion. We are committed to collaborating with students in both Devon and Cornwall, and both unions, and will share updates from these conversations. If you wish to be involved in this process, please express your interest by contacting Penny Dinh (Students’ Guild) or Cara Chittenden (Students’ Union) by Wednesday 25th November.
Getting further help/support
We would also like to use this opportunity to highlight the University’s Success for All Fund, made available in partnership with members of our alumni community. This fund seeks to help students who are experiencing unexpected financial challenges resulting from the pandemic, which are impacting on their ability to engage with studies (for example, this could include issues relating to IT/internet connectivity). For further information, please see here. As always, we also encourage you to seek support where you need it from the Students’ Guild Advice Service (in Exeter) and Students’ Union Advice Service (in Cornwall), as well as the University’s Wellbeing Services in Exeter and Cornwall. Any feedback you wish to raise is also extremely valuable to us – we could encourage you to speak to your Students’ Guild and Students’ Union student representatives (SSLC members).
Finally, please be assured of our absolute commitment, to your success on your learning journey, during these challenging times and in the longer term; to enabling you to confidently engage with your studies and your assessments; and, to ensuring the enduring quality of your Exeter degree. We wish you every success, and of course hope that you and those near and dear to you continue to stay safe and well.
Professor Tim Quine