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This has been an immeasurably difficult year for us all, not least the students we represent. We know, studying in a pandemic is incredibly difficult, and it’s our job to represent your views, and fight your corner at every step of the way. As a Students’ Union, we worked with UCL throughout the summer, devising the Temporary Operating Model (TOM) - essentially a model for how teaching, assessment and everything in between would work this year. This was put together under the assumption that by Term 2, we’d be able to revert almost completely back to face to face teaching, and that students’ would be able to catch up on everything they missed in Term 1. As we approached the Christmas Break, we realised that the situation with the pandemic was only worsening - and the prospect of returning to face to face was looking very bleak. It was time to do more.

In our first week back, we made our stance very clear on not only the no detriment policy but also tuition fee refunds. We pressed UCL to work with us in devising a no detriment policy for this academic year. We saw increasing pressure on UCL, in the form of petitions and open letters from students. This added pressure was incredibly useful for us in lobbying UCL to start conversations, something we’re grateful for. Whilst there was some significant reluctance from certain areas in UCL to put in place mitigations, the issue was taken to an Emergency Convening of the Education Committee, and on 8 Jan, the Examinations and Assessment Contingency Panel (EACP) was reinstated. This was a small step in the right direction.

EACP, the group which wrote the No Detriment Policy of 2019/20, was now back up and running to build the mitigations for this academic year. Jim and I were eager to get started, we were adamant in our intention to get students a robust and fair policy, one that resembles last year’s policy as much as possible. We wanted to see modules discounted, we wanted to reweight this year, we wanted to have a real safety net for our students.

Having said this, from the get-go, we knew the kind of challenges that we faced ahead of us. We knew that there was already some real reluctance from parts of UCL to even have extra mitigations. We knew that last year’s policy, which so many students benefited from, led to some really significant levels of grade inflation - almost 65% of students were awarded 1:1’s last year. Then, the Russell Group made their statement, which indicated an unwillingness across the sector to implement the kind of policies we wanted to see. We knew that all this would make it difficult to push for a similar policy this year. Despite this, not once did our resolve to get a no detriment policy as good as last year ever wane. 

EACP meetings started. The first few meetings were set aside for setting some principles around which the group would work. The principles which EACP agreed to were taken directly from an open letter that we wrote alongside Russell Group Students’ Unions across the country. Another promising step in the right direction.

The group’s attention then turned to revamp the provisions of Extenuating Circumstances (ECs) this year. Initially, ECs were limited to 2 lots of 14 days of self-certified mitigation for the year. This simply wasn’t enough, as we knew that some students had already used them both up. EACP decided to increase this to 3, whilst also allowing certain students (key workers, students with caring responsibilities etc) to defer 30 of their credits to the late summer assessment period. This wasn’t enough, and we knew this. At the next meeting, Jim and I pushed back, and we’re able to move the dial from 2 self-certified ECs to 5 for undergraduate students and 6 for postgraduate students with a summer term. This also meant that all students now have the option to defer some credits to late summer, as opposed to the previously suggested key workers and students with caring responsibilities.

In the last week of January, we finally saw UCL’s draft proposal for this year’s no detriment policy. The approach UCL initially planned on taking was really quite problematic. The initial plan was to scale marks retroactively. Essentially, UCL would have had you sit all your assessments, and come the summer, should the results profile look significantly worse than previous cohorts, UCL would scale your marks up where they see fit. We immediately saw the issues with this approach and realised that this would be detrimental if it went ahead as the only policy. We got to work and over the weekend I wrote a paper which we intended to table at the next EACP meeting. Retroactive scaling had a number of issues. It would do nothing for student mental health, and we felt it did not sufficiently protect students’ results. Some students would still get their 1:1’s and 2:1’s, but only because they worked themselves into the ground, at the expense of their mental and physical wellbeing. This would in turn pull the cohort averages up, and the students who needed supporting the most would be left at a disadvantage. This would have significant effects on the BME awarding gap, only working to further entrench it. In addition, purely retroactive action gives students no concrete guarantees on action up front prior to exams, particularly affecting our students with job or masters course offers. We also felt that the role grade inflation was playing in discussions was overstated, and that the priorities of students should be put first. With all of this in mind, our paper called for discounting of a students lowest modules this year, whilst also reweighting this year. Meanwhile, UCL had consulted 650 exam board chairs on the plans, many of whom felt that there was no need for any further mitigations. 

At the next EACP meeting, we presented and defended our paper. Our points about retroactive action were taken on board, and it was made clear to UCL that they would have to put in place mitigations in advance of assessments. Whilst UCL did veer away from the planned retroactive action, our proposals for discounting modules and reweighting this year were vetoed. The reason for this was simply concerns about academic standards and grade inflation. The grade inflation UCL saw last year was something they simply would not risk again by taking a similar, even less extreme approach. It was made very clear to us, on multiple occasions throughout the discussion that academic standards would have to take precedence over the student voice. This was incredibly disappointing to hear, though it did not come as a surprise. 

A no detriment policy, by definition, should be an inflationary policy. As a result of the difficult circumstances this year, a no detriment policy should inflate the already deflated results of students. Unfortunately, this was a brick wall we hit with UCL. Instead, UCL decided that extending the borderline would be the best approach. With this approach, UCL would be allowing for grade inflation of around 3-5%, as opposed to the 20% it saw last academic year.

Whilst this new package of measures will help some students, we’re left feeling disappointed with the outcome. We put everything we had into making the case for students throughout this process, but we were in the minority in the end. Our focus now turns to supporting students through the rest of this academic year. Working with UCL, and where necessary, holding them to account. EACP meetings will continue over the coming weeks as we wrap up the final details, and we will continue to, as we always have done, fight for policies that put our students first.

Read our breakdown of how the No Detriment package works this year.