On April 17th, University College Dublin (UCD) announced new academic supports to assist students’ precarious situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. These supports were implemented in no small part due to mounting pressure from UCD students, voiced through the UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU), in what is perhaps the most popular action the Union have pushed through in recent years. Though not exactly a “No Detriment” policy, as many had sought to get, it is likely the best results realistically achievable in UCD, with the university recognising that every UCD student now has extenuating circumstances.
The wide-ranging supports for students who are currently being negatively affected by the situation they find themselves in were announced via email by Registrar and Deputy President of UCD Mark Rogers. An extensive breakdown of what this means for students can be found here. Here’s some of the biggest changes:
- Grading standards will be reviewed and thresholds may be revised for particular grades.
- For continuous assessment (CA) that is to be completed this trimester, UCD will review the component grading. If a student fails a CA, UCD will “offer an in-module resit if considered appropriate”.
- After grading exams, UCD will check individual performance across modules and look for patterns that suggest an impact on performance from week 8 onwards.
- The grade distribution will be evaluated and compared to the distributions over the previous three years. If anomalies appear, changes to grades may be implemented and all affected grades will increase by at least 1 grade point, eg, D- to D.
- Students’ grades will be reviewed for the current trimester in the context of their grades for the previous three years, with special attention on final year students.
- No late submissions of coursework will receive penalties under these new rules.
- Resit attempts will be graded according to the full grading-scale and not considered pass/fail as per the current regulations.
UCD have taken the most appropriate approach to the situation. By holding firm against an 8,000-strong petition for a “No Detriment” policy and taking the time necessary to draw up adequate measures, UCD students now have a more robust and functional support system in place. A “No Detriment” policy, similar to those implemented in the UK, may have encouraged students not to actively participate in classes, continuous assessments and final exams, safe in the knowledge that their GPA would not take a hit. According to university sources, a blanket policy would likely have de-valued degrees from UCD students graduating this year. The multiple officials who will examine individual grades before approval aims to ensure those who put in work but, are impacted by the situation, will be recognised and their grades amended appropriately. This means people truly impacted will not be worse-off, whilst those who try to take advantage of the system, which was a concern with the “No Detriment” idea, are not unjustly rewarded.
The UCDSU can be commended for their efforts in getting this deal in place, having worked to get the student voice heard by UCD management. The measures were put to UCD’s Academic Council Executive Committee (ACEC) by the aptly-named, newly-launched “Working Group on Supporting Students in Assessment During COVID-19”. Chaired by Prof Marie Clarke, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the group of 7 people had 3 SU Officers to input student’s concerns, which have clearly been considered in the measures.
This is probably the most popular UCDSU has been in years, and likely for a good time to come. The result has led to a surge in popularity for the SU, notably on social media. It is also the most engagement the SU has seen in a number of years, with hundreds of social media likes and comments pouring in from students to provide ideas, support and thanks for the SU’s role in securing the new regulations. Their efforts exemplify the importance of not burning bridges with management, a lesson which must be learned by next year’s team who seem hell bent on protesting as much as possible.
At the end of the day, this is probably the best outcome that students could have hoped for. No-Detriment was probably never going to happen, but the students engaged in the movement fostered widespread discussion and put pressure on the university. UCD have done the right thing and given students a fair, and in some cases ‘degree-saving’, set of supports that will allow students to try their best under the circumstances, but not be penalised if they fall short. The Students’ Union have played a blinder. Examples like this demonstrate the need for student representation. The supports will likely come under scrutiny as we enter the assessment period, and as lockdown fatigue sets in, let’s just hope they will be enough.