The PEC system allows students to receive deadline extensions or authorise absences from lectures and seminars. The University’s PEC guidance states: “Variations to the normal progression and assessment pattern are therefore only approved for good reasons. Good reasons are normally those associated with exceptional, unexpected and serious medical problems, personal problems or disabilities/long term illnesses etc. Rules are not entirely prescriptive, and each case is taken on its merits.”
The guide specifies the University’s bereavement policy, stating that “your statement of impact on yourself will suffice as evidence of bereavement.” However, while the guide states that students only need to provide a copy of a death certificate “if [they] wish”, many students are claiming that they were specifically asked for them.
Newcastle University student Ella Williams told the Courier: “My assignment preparation at the end of last year was disrupted by the sudden illness and death of a close family member. I met my personal tutor to explain why I wasn’t attending all my lectures (due to frequent hospital visits as her health rapidly declined). Despite being visibly upset, I was offered no support or reassurance and instead was bluntly told to fill out a PEC form detailing her illness.
"My PEC form was initially declined until I provided a death certificate" - An anonymous Newcastle University student
“When she died two weeks later, I was told I had to fill out another form updating the University on the situation in order to get an assignment extension. This PEC form was initially declined and was not approved until I provided both a death certificate and funeral order of service. I had to ring my mum, who had just lost her mum, to ask her to go through the process of getting the documents. I felt extremely uncomfortable with the University seeing the exact details, including hymns and speeches from relatives, of a personal family service. I was shocked by the lack of sympathy I was shown and felt completely alone in my struggling during the times I was at University.”
It appears that this was not an isolated incident; another student shared that:
“When my close family member died, I was asked to supply either a death certificate, the order of service from the funeral or an obituary notice in order to get an essay extension. At this point, I was so stressed from the entire PEC process and lack of help from the University in general that I supplied a death certificate, but I felt awful about it.
“I feel like, as adults, the University should trust us enough to not lie about these things. Grieving is hard enough without having to go through this uncomfortable process.”
Another anonymous student had shared that “the University required a death certificate” for them to be able to “travel to lay [their] grandfather’s ashes”.
The University is yet to respond to a Freedom of Information request
“It put a huge amount of stress on both my family and myself at an already stressful and emotional time. I was also told there would be no academic consideration for my results in the conditions of my PEC.”
Last month, the Guardian found that out of 21 universities that responded to a freedom of information request, only an estimated 20% had consistent intervention policies in place to help students in need. This provoked conversation around whether universities are doing enough to help students who are struggling.
The Courier sent a Freedom of Information request to the University on 29 September asking how many students had been asked to supply death certificates as PEC form evidence over the last three years, however the University is yet to respond.
A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “We understand that this can be a distressing time for a student and difficult for them to articulate the impact on their studies, so in the event of the loss of an immediate family member, they should inform their school as soon as possible by providing information such as their relationship to the deceased, the timing of the death and how much study time was lost. Death certificates are not required for PEC submission forms, however a student may wish to include a copy of a death certificate or other notice of bereavement, if available.
“We would encourage any student needing support during a time of bereavement to see the Student Health and Wellbeing Service.”
Charlotte Boulton, a postgraduate student who ran to be the Students’ Union Welfare and Equality Officer last year, had “sensitivity towards bereaved students” as one of her manifesto points. You can read her opinion piece in Campus Comment.
Featured Image: Newcastle University