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Exclusive: The Student speaks to the fourth-year who started the ‘no detriment’ petition

As the UK plunged into yet another lockdown on 4 January 2020, a final year University of Edinburgh student started a petition urging the university to implement a ‘no detriment’ policy for fourth-year students. 

Speaking to The Student about why they started the petition, they said: 

“Last year’s ‘no detriment’ policy was a total lifeline for me, in terms of my upcoming exams and overall ability to cope with lockdown.  

“I would argue what students are going through currently is far worse. We are facing the same uncertainties, darkness and panic experienced last year, but with the entire academic year affected this time around.

“A safety net policy is necessary to reflect this and protect both our grades and mental health, and I think the 9,000 plus students that signed the petition in just over a week would say the same.”

Despite this, in an email sent to students on 15 January 2021, the University of Edinburgh rejected calls for the ‘no detriment’ policy, arguing that it was an “emergency measure” that they no longer deemed necessary. 

The decision not to implement the policy followed a similar statement from the Russell Group that also rendered ‘no detriment’ policies unnecessary this year. 

Reacting to the university’s decision, the student was relatively optimistic that the university might still introduce measures to ensure that students are assessed fairly: 

“The university has so far rejected the same algorithmic, data-based approach as last year, however, it must be noted this is just one type of ‘no detriment’ policy.

“A ‘no detriment’ policy could still be granted, but one based off a more holistic set of mitigating policies instead of pre-pandemic data. 

“The university has assured its students that the exceptional circumstances faced will be taken into account when it comes to assessment this year, so there is still reason to believe measures will be taken to ensure students are assessed on a non-detrimental basis. 

“Cardiff, Newcastle and York have all deflected from the Russell Group statement, and one would hope that Edinburgh has the compassion to follow suit.”

The switch to a hybrid-model of learning has seen many students learning online for the entirety of the academic year, posing additional challenges for students. 

“Some students have seen their contact hours reduced and their reading lists increased to make up for this, while others have seen discussion boards used as alternatives to discussion in seminars. 

“Fourth years in particular have hugely suffered, never having met their dissertation supervisors in person, and now unable to access vital books from the library due to lockdown restrictions.”

Acknowledging that although teaching staff have done all they can to help students, the student insists that “the reality is that virtual teaching is nothing in comparison to in-person teaching” and highlighted the additional non-academic strain that students face as a result of the pandemic, adding: 

“Alongside academic worries, students have lived through a range of social distancing restrictions since September. 

“All of our usual coping mechanisms have been taken away from us, resulting in the social restrictions having affected students’ lives as much as the challenges of virtual learning.”

Some students and universities have raised questions about the effect a ‘no detriment’ and other mitigating policies might have on the integrity and reputation of degrees. Addressing these worries directly, the student maintained: 

“A ‘no detriment’ policy is not a fast-pass ticket to graduating with a 1st

“It is a chance for students to ‘lock in’ the grades they achieved pre-pandemic and be awarded either that grade or higher (should they perform well in subsequent assessments and improve upon previous ones). 

“At the end of the day, so what if a student who in all likelihood would have scored a 2:2 graduates with a 2:1 in 2021? Is it really the end of the world? 

“To complete a degree in this current climate is an achievement in itself, and I am sure there are far greater threats to academic integrity than a few inflated degrees during a global pandemic.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons