Students petition universities on ‘no detriment’ policy to ensure grades do not suffer over Covid-19 crisis

File photo of the University of Limerick.

Students across the country are calling on Irish universities to implement a ‘no detriment policy’ ahead of upcoming examinations to ensure grades do not suffer as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The policy acts as a “safety net” to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far in the year, provided they pass the semester.

The system has been implemented by a number of universities in the UK and means students with a passing grade will finish with a final grade that’s either the same or higher than their grade prior to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Petitions calling for a ‘no-detriment’ policy have gained traction in recent days with thousands of students signing petitions across UL, UCC, UCD, DCU, TCD, NUIG and Maynooth University.

Many students feel the closure of universities has been disruptive to students' study habits, in particular those that are dependent on university facilities such as libraries and laboratories.

Petitioners are urging the university to consider those who have poor internet connection, unsuitable home environments for study, and those who may be sick or caring for sick family members during the current crisis.

A number of Student Union’s across the country are supporting non-detriment policies including at University of Limerick.

However, while UL students’ Academic Officer Colin Lynch supports the policy he says steps would need to be made to ensure it covers all students, including those doing link-in modules or repeating the semester.

“Every student should be given the opportunity to improve and every student should be accommodated during this time” he said.

Despite the support of students and student representatives on the campus, UL’s Critical Operations Team and Executive Committee sent out an email today saying non-detriment was already “inherently built into assessment systems at UL.”

“The results that you will receive are of equivalent value as any year ahead of, or behind you, despite these extraordinary circumstances” the email stated.

“Commit to your work, distill out the noise of distraction, sustain your energy over the next two months and let your tutors, lecturers and academic leaders take responsibility for the integrity of your assessment and results, and be assured you will not have to question or defend their validity or value.”

UL Student Life President Jack Scanlan responded to the statement on Twitter by clarifying that this was not the no-detriment policy the Union brought forward on behalf of students.

“We want a policy aligned to what exists in the University of Exeter,” he said, where assessments taking place after March 15th fall under a policy wherein students' average grade for the year can only remain the same or higher provided they pass all coursework and summer exams.

UL students reacted with anger to the university's email on social media, with a number of students calling the email “condescending.”

“Online classes and assessments are not an adequate substitute for actual classes,” said fourth year student Kate Glasson.

Non-detrimental assessment would ensure that everyone, especially fourth-year students such as myself, would not suffer a decrease in their overall QCA due to extreme and unfortunate circumstances that are beyond their control.

Sinead Murphy, another final year student, said she and other students are facing difficulties studying from home.

“I have limited internet access, no desk to work from, no access to the library or books, amongst a range of other limitations. Such limitations impact heavily upon my ability to study from home as I would in college.”

“At a time where our future is so uncertain, it would be comforting to feel like UL is on their students’ side,” she said.

A number of politicians are also calling for the implementation of a 'no detriment' policy for student grades including Limerick TD Maurice Quinlivan.

"While universities have to their credit, gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure continuity of learning, the reality is that the situation that students find themselves has no comparison with any other academic year" he said.

The Sinn Féin TD said the party has written to the IUA and to the Minister for Education to ask that they engage with the various universities to encourage this model.

Fianna Fáil TD Norma Foley has also called for no detriment policies to be implemented.

The Kerry TD said one student contacted her to explain he paid €54 to access one journal.

"He explained that he needed at least 20 more to prepare for his upcoming exams but the cost was just too expensive," she said.

Universities in Edinburgh, Manchester, Southampton and Exeter are among those who have already adopted varying ‘safety net’ policies which ensure students are not disadvantaged in upcoming assessments.