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Our Assessment Pledge 2020-21

19 Jan 2021

A message from Professor April McMahon, Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students and Laetitia Alexandratos, Education Officer and Nana Agyeman, Postgraduate Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union

The University of Manchester

We want to ensure that our students are supported to succeed despite the extraordinary events of this academic year, which we understand has been especially challenging. They have adapted brilliantly to new ways of learning and assessment, though we know many may have struggled – but the impact of the pandemic is apparent for us all.

In supporting our students, we need to ensure that the quality of our awards is maintained and standards are upheld, as recognised by employers, professional bodies and other institutions. This is vital for their future employability and for the reputation of our University.

Steps we have taken to date

Based on student feedback and with support and strong encouragements from the Students’ Union Executive team, we have already taken a number of steps to help and support students throughout the year, including:

  • Updating our Mitigating Circumstances Policy to cover technology failure, and allow self-certification of illness for up to seven days for missed classes.
  • Making many of our assessments inclusive by design (where regulatory or accreditation requirements allow) so that they are accessible to all, regardless of location or disability.
  • Updating our Procedures for Protecting the Interests of Students, which outline the actions to be taken by the University when an exceptional event disrupts normal academic processes and procedures, to cover the current pandemic situation.
  • Ensuring that study spaces remain accessible on-campus, for those students who need to be here.

These steps have helped many students already. We are in agreement with the rest of the Russell Group that the same ‘no disadvantage’ policy as last year would not be appropriate or possible under current circumstances. However, as our Students’ Union Executive have made clear, we recognise that our students need to understand what additional measures will be in place, alongside our usual, robust examination procedures, to reassure them that they will not be disadvantaged in their assessments as a consequence of the pandemic.

We are therefore making a five-point Assessment Pledge to all of our taught students for the remainder of the 2020/21 academic year:

Our Assessment Pledge 2020-21

  1. Automatic extension: You can choose to have an automatic extension of up to seven days, for up to two individual assignments or pieces of coursework in the remainder of this academic year. This allows you to choose how to best resolve any challenges arising from deadlines ‘bunching up’. You just need to notify your School or Programme Team in advance of the original deadline, if you wish to do this. This also applies to dissertations, but not to any examinations. These automatic extensions are available in addition to any extensions you may be granted separately, for example via mitigating circumstances or through the Disability Advisory and Support Service (DASS).
  2. Simplifying mitigating circumstances: We will remove the requirement to provide medical evidence for mitigating circumstances applications (COVID related, or otherwise). Whilst this simplifies the mitigating circumstances procedure, you should still seek help for any medical or mental health concerns. We strongly encourage you to give as much detail as you can in your application, so we can ensure you are offered appropriate support; and to speak to an appropriate member of staff in your School or elsewhere in the University.
  3. Moderation in-line with previous years: University-wide, we are introducing robust ways of identifying whether the marks for your whole year cohort are out of line with those from prior (non-COVID) years. Exam boards will review and, where appropriate, marks will be scaled to bring them more in-line with previous years’ results. We’ll also identify cases where your individual marks may be out of line with your achievements in this and previous years of your programme and discuss this further with you, to explore whether there may be mitigating circumstances.
  4. Regulation changes: Every year we look carefully at students who have just missed out on a higher classification.  So, for example, if your average mark was between 68% and 70%, we would look further at the profile of your marks to consider whether or not you should be awarded a first or a distinction (and the same at other boundaries).  This year, we’re extending the ‘boundary zones’ by 1%, so that we will consider the higher classification for any student with 67% or above for a first/distinction and 57% for 2.1/merit, etc. In addition, for PGT students, you can’t currently get a distinction if you have a re-sit or compensated mark, but we will remove that barrier this year wherever we can (subject to regulatory and professional body accreditation requirements).
  5. Waiving of re-sit fees: If you need to take any re-sits, we won’t charge you a fee to take any of them and we will help you through them. 

This Pledge is being launched to all of our taught students today, Tuesday 19 January.

We do recognise that there will be a number of options for implementing these measures, which will require further discussion at a local level. The Vice Deans for Teaching, Learning and Students in each Faculty will be working with local teams to consider this detail, with support from TLG.

Supporting students in their upcoming online assessments

Finally, as you may be aware, many online assessments begin this week and we have updated our exam and assessment FAQs to include information for students on what to do if they are unable to take their assessment due to illness, or technology issues.

There is also information on our support provision for online assessments including in the evenings and at weekends, so our students can rest assured that there is someone to contact should they experience any technical difficulties. This information was communicated to students last week.

Professor April McMahon, Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students

Laetitia Alexandratos, Education Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union

Nana Agyeman, Postgraduate Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union