|18 Jan 2021|
|News from the Worthian Network|
Isabella Enoizi StM'17 is in her final year at Exeter University studying English Literature and Italian. In response to the lack of mitigation policies in universities during the pandemic, she recently formed the group Students for Academic Mitigation and created a petition that went viral and has been signed by over 23,000 people. The BBC have now highlighted her campaign. You can read why she feels so strongly about this issue here:
The pandemic has caused disruption at every level of education. However, higher education students have received no support in terms of policy as schools have seen, or specific to universities, in terms of financial relief. Where university students have been mentioned, it has been to blame them for the spread of the virus after they returned to their universities – which they did on Government advice.
At my university, Exeter, teaching hours have been drastically reduced which has lead to content being made-up for by increased independent learning and reading. That content however remains on marking schemes and in exams with students seemingly expected to successfully teach ourselves missed content to the same standard as experts – which is impossible. This inferior learning experience will undeniably lead to impacted marks as we enter exams and assessments which still cover those topics. Independent learning is categorically not a like-for-like substitute for contact time (let alone face-to-face contact time) with experts in the field. Final year students face writing dissertations or research projects – in most cases the most heavily weighted piece of work – without access to the resources, equipment or staff that we would normally rely upon. I believe that our universities have a duty of care to us, their students, which they are currently neglecting by not implementing academic mitigation policies. We want to – and deserve to – graduate with degree classifications we deserve and can be proud of, without asking the question “what if..?”.
In November, I wrote an open letter to my university, endorsed by over 2,000 signatures, asking for new mitigation policies to be developed in line with the “no-detriment” policy we had been protected by last year – but the university refused, stating that such a policy was not possible. Students understood that a no-detriment policy as we knew it last year is not possible because the algorithm relied on the average of grades achieved pre-Covid – which is why we asked for a new policy. The university’s argument was that, as this whole academic year falls during the pandemic, there is no data to make an algorithm for a benchmark this year. However, by stating that there is no viable data to use this year, were they not acknowledging that this academic year’s results have been impacted? Consequently, I co-founded the group, Students for Academic Mitigation (S4AM) and we launched a campaign for academic mitigation across UK universities, aiming to ensure that students enter the job and further education markets on an equal footing with each other. The petition currently stands at 23,000 signatures which you can find here. We have also begun helping students at other universities set up their own ‘branches’ of S4AM, giving them advice and providing promotional videos and images. I have also been contacted by several media outlets, demonstrating how important this issue is to people around the country.
Despite having thousands of students behind both campaigns, the university refused, citing the need to preserve their reputation as their apparent main concern and that the improved availability of extensions or deferrals constitute sufficient protection. These policies, while helpful, ignore issues around international students on time-limited visas and those holding conditional job or higher education offers. They also cited significant financial investments (in sanitising study spaces and in IT systems) as a form of mitigation for circumstances this year. Finally, they assured us that our final results will be checked against historical data to ensure we do not greatly differ from previous cohorts – a policy which is to be followed by several universities. Has the 2020 A-level fiasco (resulting from similar scaling algorithms) and the subsequent Government U-turn been forgotten? In scaling cohorts, only anomalous results are picked up whereas a student who only drops a few marks may not be picked up because they remain within the expected graph. These few dropped marks throughout the year can mean the difference between degree classifications and cannot fairly be attributed to the student alone; there are too many outside factors affecting achievement this year. Scaling happens annually to an extent, but the lack of attention to individual achievement by these algorithms is extremely concerning. We are most like last year’s cohort, if any, and they did get a no-detriment policy, despite only weeks of the second term being affected. After 10 months of disrupted learning, we are not asking for the same policy but a new, equally protective one. Our conversations around this are ongoing.
With S4AM, we argued that money poured into new systems or technologies does not mitigate for staff and students alike having to adapt and learn how to use them, with no protection for students from the inevitable growing pains that the education sector has undergone this year. Likewise, ensuring study spaces – that we are now banned from returning to – are safe and that IT systems can cope, are not replacements for mitigation policies. Indeed, touching on the concerns surrounding tuition fees, many students would argue that our fees pay for these developments which are necessary for an institution needing to adapt and to keep pace with competitors. However, tuition fees are not my main motivation for questioning the lack of academic support in place.
Current students represent a whole generation abandoned by Government and their own institutions, the damage from which will be felt for years to come as thousands graduate with impacted educations and degree classifications. In reality, student demands are relatively modest; asking for the disruption of the pandemic to be taken into account when they are assessed. Why there is so much resistance from universities and no support from the governing bodies of Higher Education to acknowledge this, remains a mystery. As a Worthian, my action is aimed at protecting current students, but also those who will come after us.
Isabella Enoizi StM'17