NUSU to lobby ‘near miss’ policy for marks this year

The policy also includes some permanent demands for the University

Joe Molander
17th December 2020
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Newcastle University Students’ Union (NUSU) announced last Wednesday that it is lobbying Newcastle University for a ‘near miss’ policy with regards to this year's assessments. The policy features five demands for undergraduate and postgraduate taught students, and four demands for postgraduate research students.

The policy was announced in a post from Sian Dickie and Charlotte Boulton, the Education Sabbatical Officer and Postgraduate Sabbatical Officer respectively. The post explains that the policy represents “additional changes… to ensure students feel that their marks are fair and their performance is not at a detriment due to the various impacts of COVID-19.”

The near miss policy does not include a safety net policy like the one adopted by the University last academic year. In their post on the NUSU website, Dickie and Boulton cite issues with calculating a baseline average comparable to the one used last year for undergraduate students.

The post explains “there is no baseline from which to base students’ marks on.” For example, first year undergraduate students and postgraduate taught students who are on one year courses lack usable marks.  

The demands listed under the near miss policy for undergraduate and postgraduate taught students are as follows:

A sliding scale of mark deductions for late assignments

Students would lose a certain percentage of their mark for every working day that an assignment is late, for up to seven days. No more than five marks would be dropped a day.

This would replace current policy that caps all late assignments handed in without a Personal Extenuating Circumstances (PEC) form at 40%. This would be a permanent change to university Assessment and Feedback Policy, so would not just apply to this academic year.

No more assessment bunching

A maximum of two assessment deadlines would be permitted in the same week, with 48 hours between deadlines. No deadlines would be permitted in the 14 days before the dissertation or final project deadline.

This change would also be permanent.

Uncapped resits

Currently, Assessment and Feedback Policy caps resits at 40% for undergraduate modules and 50% for postgraduate modules. This demand would see the caps removed for the 2020-21 academic year.

Require Newcastle University to remind the Board of Examiners to consider exercising discretion to award a higher degree classification in particular cases

Currently (page 46), the Board of Examiners can award higher classifications to students whose final programme average is within two marks of a classification boundary.

This demand would see Newcastle ensure that the Board consider whether or not to exercise the necessary discretion to do so for all degree programmes. Considering whether or not to exercise this discretion is part of the current regulations already.

This demand would also see the Board take into account the difficulties presented by COVID-19 when considering whether or not to award higher classifications.

Have assessment marking and feedback take into account the barriers to facilities caused by COVID-19

Each of the three university faculties (Humanities and Social Sciences; Science, Agriculture & Engineering; and Medical Sciences) would consider the access issues posed by COVID-19. This includes lack of access to university libraries, studio spaces and specialist software. This would be reflected in the marking and feedback given out by each faculty.

Meanwhile, the near miss policy has the following demands for postgraduate research students:

Make more PhD students eligible for COVID-19 Impact Scholarships

The COVID-19 Impact Scholarships provide stipend support to PhD and MPhil students for up to 12 weeks before the end of their ‘minimum candidature’.

Minimum candidature is the shortest length of time they can spend researching before gaining their qualification. This tends to be three years for PhD students and one year for MPhil students.

Currently, students whose minimum candidature ends on or after 1 April 2022 are not eligible for COVID-19 Impact Scholarships, which this demand would reverse.

Have assessment marking and Annual Progress Reviews (APRs) take into account the barriers to facilities caused by COVID-19

This is similar to the demand for undergraduate and postgraduate taught students.

The demand for postgraduate research students also specifies APRs, fieldwork and Change of Circumstances forms.

Change of Circumstances forms allow for changes in postgraduate research students' study arrangements. This includes temporarily suspending study or switching from full time to part time study.

Meanwhile, APRs are standard procedure for postgraduate research students, and are conducted every year as part of university policy.

Prioritise postgraduate research access to facilities when planning building access during semester two

This demand stems from the fact that postgraduate research students have had reduced access to offices and labs during the pandemic. As such, the demand also requires that supervisors are more understanding of short-term requests for extensions.

Allow students to submit a supporting statement about the impacts of COVID-19 during the 2021 APR process

In the 2020 APR process, students are able to submit an additional 500 word statement to explain the impact that COVID-19 has had on them and their research. This demand would extend the option of submitting such a statement into the 2021 APR process as well.

Speaking to The Courier, Charlotte Boulton said that discussions over some of these demands were already underway with university staff. She said that she was confident that the staff are “open and receptive to many of our proposals”.

Boulton was also asked if she thought students would prefer a safety net policy using a flawed baseline average than no safety net at all. In response, she said that “A flawed baseline average would not have been fair to all students and I would not have been comfortable proposing a continuation of any baseline average.”

She noted that last year’s safety net policy was implemented after January assessments had gone ahead as normal, prior to the pandemic, meaning “the University had something from that academic year to base grades on”.

“The baseline average from last academic year was just one measure among many others, including streamlined PEC forms and options to defer assessments to the summer,” she explained, adding that a safety net “is not the only solution available to ensure fair assessments and marks for students.”

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AUTHOR: Joe Molander
Head of Current Affairs and co-founder of The Toon Lampoon. Politics, interviews, satire and the Courier's leading authority on frosted tips. @JoeMolander on Twitter and full portfolio available on Muckrack.

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