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Russell Group and University of Edinburgh reject calls for new no detriment policy

Following calls by students to reinstate the no detriment policy of March 2020, the University of Edinburgh has chosen to support the Russell Group’s statement that such policies are neither “…necessary or appropriate this year”.

After a semester of continued disruption to studies due to the Covid-19 pandemic, students across the UK have urged universities to reinstate last year’s protective measures.

Last Tuesday, the National Union of Students (NUS) Vice-President Higher Education, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, called for a blanket no detriment policy, ensuring students’ exam results would not fall below their average attained in previous assessment.

With petitions signed across the country, Edinburgh’s alone has amassed over 9000 signatures.

Teaching in schools across the university has been either partly or wholly online and many students have been urged not to return to campus unless necessary, in line with new government measures.

Many schools are encouraging staggered returns to the university with dates as late as mid-February being suggested.

In light of calls for safety measures, the Russell Group have announced their decision not to support the policy, which they fear would undermine the “fair assessment and… integrity of degrees”.

“Our universities are confident that the steps taken this year will ensure students are given a fair grade.

“We therefore do not consider that using the same algorithmic approach to provide individual ‘no detriment’ or safety net’ policies…is necessary or appropriate this year.

“Universities have re-designed their learning, teaching and assessments…students have risen to [the pandemic’s] challenges by embracing blended learning models”.

Yet they have also cited concern that “…in many cases the use of such algorithms would not be possible given the scarcity of pre-pandemic benchmarking data available for many students”.

While the group has suggested its universities take a tailored approach to their assessment policies, only York university has adopted a no detriment policy.

On Friday, Edinburgh indicated that it was “involved in [the Russell Group’s] discussions” and has chosen to support them in rejecting the policy.

Indeed, they have previously implemented alternative support measures recommended in the Russell Group’s statement, including the new dedicated service for extensions and special circumstances.

In an email to students, Vice Principal Student Colm Harmon stated that last year’s no detriment policy “was an emergency measure, and while it is true that we are still in the pandemic, it is also true that we always…operate assessments and grading in a way that sets out to maximise the opportunity of all students to demonstrate their knowledge”.

Responding to the Russell Group’s statement, Elizabeth Langer, a fourth year English Literature student told The Student:

“The Russell Group statement, to me, is a joke and doesn’t acknowledge the reality of being a student during Covid.

“…With the heavy UCU strikes and now the pandemic, I haven’t had a single year of uninterrupted study…

“I’ve had my contact hours halved, the library closed for browsing and borrowing while I’m meant to be writing my dissertation, and little support from the uni.

“How can I work to the same standard as past cohorts when the university won’t offer me the same resources they were afforded?”

The Edinburgh University Students’ Association president, Ellen MacRae and Vice President Education, Fizzy Abou Jawad, have come out in support of the student body, by joining fellow Russell Group student unions in signing a letter to the Russell Group’s Vice Chancellors.

Ellen MacRae issued the following statement:

“In response to the Russell Group’s original statement about the ‘no detriment’ policy, I arranged a meeting with the 23 other Presidents from the Russell Group Students’ Associations.

“We wrote a letter in response, calling for a safety net for all of our students and outlined the principles we want to see our institutions following when deciding what this support should look like.

“It is important that the University is able to compassionately demonstrate how these policies will account for the different needs of all students and is transparent about the mitigations that will be put in place.

“We have since received a reply from the Russell Group and are currently in conversations about assessments with the University.”

The University of Edinburgh was contacted by The Student but declined to offer further comment.

Image: N Chadwick via geograph.org.uk