A no detriment policy isn’t going to ruin the ‘integrity’ of my degree. It’s already ruined

So A-levels and GCSEs retain their integrity with added support but a degree cannot?

There are two common lines flying about as universities are rejecting no detriment policies left right and centre. The first: “No student will be disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic”, and the second “we are doing this in order to protect the integrity of your degrees”. Extra points if they throw something about “academic excellence” in there as well, just to make you gag.

My main issue here lies with the Russell Group, who used both of these delightful phrases in their statement regarding no detriment policies and how they “do not consider an algorithmic (no detriment) approach necessary or appropriate this year”. I want to highlight what an oversight this statement is and how all it does is show the enormous naivety of the Russell Group.

At this point academics, politicians and government officials need to stop asking “whether compensation is appropriate” and start asking “how much compensation is appropriate?” because there is absolutely no way that the “academic quality” these institutions are championing so highly are intact this year.

To begin let’s consider the objective of the Russell Group: “Its aim is to help ensure that our universities have the optimum conditions in which to flourish and continue to make social, economic and cultural impacts through their world-leading research and teaching.” (Russell Group 2018) (Yes I cited it and everything, because that’s all my degree has taught me apparently). 

I want to draw your attention to two phrases in that statement, “optimum conditions in which to flourish” and “world-leading teaching”. “Optimum conditions” implies a number of things, ergonomic lecture theatres and study spaces; supportive, easily accessible staff and a wealth of resources at your fingertips. Do students currently possess any of those things? No.

Now, world-leading teaching“- here’s an article about a lecturer teaching his class whilst driving, now tell me the teaching’s world-leading? This is perhaps this most prominent of countless examples where teaching has been indisputably substandard. And the Russell Group are promising their universities are there to help people “flourish”.

So now, all reasonable doubt eradicated, we can all agree the “academic quality” that the Russell Group and other universities nationwide are resting their laurels on has ceased to exist.

Rather than accepting universities themselves are the problem in under-delivering “academic quality” worthy of £9,250 per annum, they are using a hypothetical no detriment policy as a scape-goat. Claiming that no detriment will be the sole source in the deterioration of degree value. But, it’s plain to see this is not the root of the cause.

A no detriment policy cannot diminish the value of a degree that has already been irreparably damaged by a raging pandemic.

The defence of the Russell Group is the argument that “2020 was an unprecedented year”. So I have some questions for the Russell Group: Three lockdowns in the course of a university degree are unprecedented are they not? Are there not researchers, academics and officials claiming we still don’t understand coronavirus and these circumstances are unprecedented? Receiving in excess of a year of online teaching in a degree that was advertised as face-to-face tuition is unprecedented, is it not?

2021 is well and truly in the unprecedented territory and our conditions are significantly worse, not better than last year’s graduates.

Which brings me on to the biggest irony in this whole situation. The Russell Group has swept away any hope of a no detriment for their students this year on the back of pressure from the government to retain degree value, yet for those students studying for GCSEs and A-levels, their qualification value is not at all affected by assessment cancellations and support.

This inequality in “academic value” across education makes a mockery of every qualification school students will receive this year. Taking the predicate that the only way to retain “academic value” is to make academic support objective, stringent and selective immediately devalues every GCSE and A-level that will be awarded on a relative level by teachers.

So to the Russell Group, I ask: How are you prepared to punish your existing students on grounds of “degree integrity”  when your incoming class of 2021 will be entering your university with objectively “devalued qualifications” by your own standards?