After an online petition by student Abigail Darby amassed almost 9000 signatures in less than a month, the University Senate, which is the highest decision-making board, today passed the policy in close cooperation with the Students’ Union.
The safety net policy, also known as a no-detriment policy, means that all postgraduates on taught programmes and all undergraduates who pass their summer assessments will be able to retain their current average grade. If students perform better than their baseline average then they will be able to use these improved grades. This consequently means that, as long as students pass their summer assessments, they will either maintain their baseline average or receive a higher grade. The policy all assessments from the start of semester two and is not limited to a particular form of assessment, and so it includes examinations, coursework and dissertations.
The calculation of a student's baseline average depends on whether they are an undergraduate or postgraduate, and which stage of their studies they are in. The University is currently compiling and processing all the data to produce the provisional baseline averages, and this will be available during the week commencing Monday 27 April. These grades will be confirmed by the Board of Examiners after internal moderation and external examiner consideration.
On its webpage, the University states aim of the policy as being "to allow [students] to complete [their] assessments, while also supporting [them]...in the exceptional circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic".
The University does, however, warn that some accrediting bodies may not permit this for the degree programmes that they accredit, but this is pending further information. Students have been told that their schools will contact them once the University receives confirmation either way from the relevant professional accrediting body, and have been asked to remember that remember that "these decisions are not in the University’s control, but the University will do what we can to act in your best interests".
While many students are relieved to hear that the policy is being implemented, some have expressed frustrations that it took so long to be announced. The University of Exeter was the first to announce the introduction of a safety net policy on 25 March, and since then many other across the country have followed suit including Sheffield, Cambridge, Southampton, Hertfordshire, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Warwick. This sparked fears among some Newcastle students that they would consequently be disadvantaged on the job market because their grades would not take into account the adverse circumstances caused by the pandemic.
Alongside the safety net policy, the University has announced a range of other measures introduced to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on students' academic performance, including a simplified PEC process for students who are individually impacted, a COVID-19 Impact Form for recording specific impacts on modules or programmes and a simplified process for students to defer all their remaining assessments.
The University will be releasing further information on 14 April.