On Sunday, we provided an update on term two teaching in response to the Government’s decision to extend the lockdown to at least 8 March for universities. In today’s message, I want to provide some reassurance around how and when exams and assessments will operate this year. I’ll also share the details on how we’ll be supporting you with a series of no detriment approaches that will safeguard your performance and maintain the value and integrity of your degree both now and in the future. We will, of course, fulfil the assurances we gave in summer term 2020 about how your marks from last year will contribute to your final degree.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been talking to students, and our teaching staff, and I’m hearing that many are struggling with motivation and the stress of the lockdown. I completely empathise with that feeling as very few of us would have predicted still being in the middle of this after nearly a year. I don’t underestimate how difficult the adjustment to learning in a pandemic has been and I understand your concern about how the current circumstances may be affecting your studies.
Safeguarding your performance and your degree
Our assessment policies aim both to protect your grades and ensure the value of your degree. Balancing those two aspects - fair grading of your current achievement and protection for your future prospects - will be key. We have planned and modelled carefully so that your hard work this year will be properly valued. The current situation has affected students very differently, and so we are calibrating our response so that those who have been badly affected will be protected. Since the pandemic hit last year, we have made changes to teaching and assessment and we are monitoring the effects of these closely. Our analysis of student performance last year and the first term of 2020/21 suggests that students are fulfilling their potential and performing at levels that at least match historic performance.
For this year’s assessments, we’ve been examining our proposed policies and looking across the sector and it’s clear that our plans are broadly in line with other universities and are in line with guidance from our regulator, the Office for Students. Our aim is to balance academic fairness and integrity to protect your achievements and awards, with our commitment to maintaining the value of a degree awarded in 2021, both to you and potential employers. This approach is very similar to those adopted across other leading universities.
We have adapted our approach to exams and assessments to ensure that the results reflect your performance in these altered circumstances. The majority of summer written examinations will be held online (with the exception of Accounting and Finance where we are confirming if the professional accreditation requires in person exams). In some subjects we plan to hold practical assessments face-to-face, if we are able. Arrangements will be confirmed by schools as soon as it’s possible and will be in line with Government restrictions.
This year’s assessments will take place throughout term three and the full assessment timetable for written assessments will be published on Tuesday 23 March.
The Fairness and Assurance Policy
For this year our no detriment approach is built around the Fairness and Assurance Policy which includes the measures carried forward from the 2019/20 Emergency Regulations, in addition to new measures put into place for 2020/21.
Measures that are already in place
- Major changes to assessments introduced in 2020/21, remain in place for academic year 2020-21 alongside changes in teaching and learning. These were designed in anticipation of interruptions and changes to the mode of teaching and includes greater use of coursework, open book assessments, etc.
- Extensions and Extenuating Circumstances policies were revised to be simpler and more generous for 2020/21.
- Emergency Regulations put in place in 2019/20 will be carried forward, as appropriate, for continuing students including those graduating this year.
This last point is important as it means we will, of course, fulfil the assurances we gave in summer term 2020 about how your mark for academic year 2019/20 will be used to calculate your final degree.
New 2021 measures
Performance will be safeguarded by a combination of moderation and (if necessary) scaling of marks for individual modules, plus a new resit policy.
- Moderation and Scaling will apply if the Department Assessment Board identifies that students’ results for a module indicate an underperformance in comparison with the historic pattern of performance. This will allow us to identify and adjust results to fairly reflect students’ performance.
- Resits - Undergraduate and postgraduate taught students will be automatically entitled to a further attempt where they fail or do not complete an assessment. Department Assessment Boards will also be able to offer uncapped resits where an individual student’s underperformance is identified. Finalists are also allowed exceptionally to apply for limited discretionary resits, if the result could lead to an improvement to the overall degree classification.
- For non-finalists – In addition to the measures above, in years two or three, the safety net will be similar to the approach taken in 2019/20. (e.g. for three year degrees, students’ final degree classification in 2022 will be the better of the standard calculation for classifying your degree applied to this year’s results or next year’s result (year three) alone). For students in year one, we are implementing simplified progression rules.
We have simplified the Extenuating Circumstances process to make it easier for you to tell us about issues that have affected your performance this year. You should be reassured however that you do not need to submit Extenuating Circumstances for issues covered by the Fairness and Assurance Policy. The general impact to teaching and assessment is being taken into account through our module review and scaling approach, and resit policy. However you should consider submitting Extenuating Circumstances where you believe your individual performance has been affected due to specific, unforeseen circumstances outside your control. These circumstances can be Covid or non-Covid related.
The specific arrangements applying to your progression and award will depend upon your particular year of study and degree course. Please click here to discover the details incorporated in the Fairness and Assurance Policy
Joint College/Students’ Union briefing and Q&A
If you have questions on the Fairness and Assurance Policy, I will be jointly hosting an MS Teams drop-in with the Students’ Union tomorrow, Thursday 4 February from 5.30-6.30pm. No need to register, please click here to join us for a short briefing, followed by a Q&A.
We are committed to supporting you through this difficult time; we hope you are safe and well and we look forward to working with you to complete your studies this year.
Professor James Knowles
Senior Vice-Principal (Education)