University of Surrey Students Are Signing A No Detriment Policy Petition (And Other Coronavirus Related News)

Source: The Guardian

As the situation evolves daily, here are all updates and answers surrounding coronavirus and the University of Surrey’s reaction and measures.

By Chloé Meley

Students across the UK are petitioning their universities for the implementation of a no detriment policy, which would ensure that students cannot score below their current average mark whilst still offering them the opportunity to score higher. Assessments would therefore proceed as normal, but no one would finish the semester with a worse grade than they had started with. Such measure would act as a safety net to guarantee students’ peace of mind, especially final years, who would otherwise have to complete assessments of major importance to their overall degree in exceptionally stressful circumstances. In addition to the practical difficulties of working at home (from unstable internet connections to the absence of a private, quiet workspace), there are also the problems that come with being stuck in an unsafe familial environment or struggling to cope with isolation, stress, and worsening mental health in this challenging time. The argument is that these issues are likely to negatively affect academic performance, and therefore need to be taken into account by the universities as they devise their assessments policy. 

A few universities have already introduced a no-detriment policy of some sort, including the Universities of Exeter, Edinburgh, Southampton, Warwick, Swansea, Bournemouth, Manchester, and Liverpool. Over 2500 Surrey students have signed the petition, who was started by final year law student Polly Butteris. Polly started worrying about assessments shortly after learning that all teaching and exams would be online, an announcement which, as an ALS student who needs a quiet workspace and struggles to work somewhere other than the library or a cafe, concerned her. Polly also thinks that in-class teaching is a “valued and important part of the university experience at Surrey, even from a purely motivational point of view for a majority of students.” After the UK went into lockdown, she spoke to a friend from the University of Kent, where a similar petition had been making the rounds. They discussed the difficulty of performing well academically when such dramatic changes are made to your working environment, and shortly after, she launched the petition. “It doesn’t matter where you are from, what specific learning needs you have, or where you prefer to work, the current worldwide situation is completely out of the student’s control and WILL affect their final grades. That is why the university must consider the impact of this crisis on the whole student community to ensure the fairest outcome for all”, she argues. 

Yesterday, Monday 30th of March, the petition was forwarded to the Vice Chancellor’s office. Polly is still awaiting a reply but did get an answer from the Students’ Union, which stated that they would press the University to come up with a solution that prioritises students’ peace of mind. Although she’s aware of how difficult it is to communicate effectively to a diverse student body that is now scattered across the world, Polly deplores the lack of information coming from the University, which affects students’ mental health greatly. According to her, “if the university genuinely care about the well-being of every single university student, then they will implement the no detriment policy.” “The petition is not asking for something far-fetched or extravagant, it is simply asking a fair for all policy in this unprecedented time”, she adds.

University updates:

  • Ergomed plc, a company situated on Surrey Research Park which provides specialised services to the pharmaceutical industry, has announced it would supply clinical research services for the study of siltuximab, an antibody that could be used for the treatment of COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory issues. 
  • The University of Surrey has made its office space available to front-line NHS staff from the Royal Surrey County Hospital. Network lines have been installed between the University’s Leggett Building and the hospital, allowing staff to relocate from the high-risk areas of the hospital where their offices are normally situated. 
  • The University is delivering food parcels to students self-isolating on campus, and the University’s catering team is also delivering food to local vulnerable communities, such as elderly residents and hospital workers. 

Updates for students: 

  • Access to buildings on campus is only allowed to conduct critical research activities. To find out whether your work classifies as critical research, you need to contact your faculty facility manager. 
  • Graduation has not yet been cancelled.
  • The University is still looking into the number of assessments students will be asked to complete.
  • The form that alternative online assessments will take is still unclear, but will be decided on a departmental level and communicated to students via their module leader. 
  • For the rest of the academic year, you can apply for extenuating circumstances without having to provide any evidence. 

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