Birmingham’s ‘no-detriment’ policy has let down final year students

Why should we be penalised for choosing to do all exams?

This academic year has not been a good one for university students, least of all final years. We had two rounds of strikes causing huge disruption to the education which we will have paid at least £30k to get. Coronavirus then struck, which has meant universities around the country have had to end teaching, close libraries and cancel exams. Given how much their students have paid to the university, throughout their degree, we are owed better and more than this. I feel like the University of Birmingham has let down its final year students in this time of crisis.

This is a result of their “no detriment policy” which only benefits people who’ve done a lot of coursework. Their policy states that rather than needing 120 credits to pass the year, you only need 80, and you can pick your best 80 credits. This means that students who completed coursework throughout the year can rely on this work to help them with their grades, but students who’s courses are exam based and those with a dissertation don’t have a safety net.

I chose to do all of my assessments in exams in the summer because I know I do better under exam pressure, given that I have a good work environment and access to the library and resources when I’m at uni. When I made this decision I obviously did not know about the strikes and the virus. All of the work which will be submitted, and therefore count towards my grade in my final year, will consequently be written during the lockdown as I’ve been told that I have to still do assessments. As a result of having to work in a house with my entire family and a young cousin who can’t return home to Italy, this is going to be pretty horrific. To make matters worse, the internet is incredibly poor at home. The teaching and instruction have been hugely hugely impacted, and this is on top of the emotional stress everyone is feeling as a result of the pandemic.

Yes, there are a great deal of people who are far worse affected than I, with loved ones dying and people losing their jobs. I also know that I am incredibly lucky to have a home where I have a desk (even if it is in the living room shared with my sister) and access to the internet. A large number of my fellow students are not so lucky, and are sharing their work space with much younger siblings, may have poorer internet, and nowhere suitable to work. Yet, they’re still held to the same expectations academically. The university has completely failed to take into account students from lower income families, and it is clearer in this situation than ever before. They have been more lenient than normal, saying we do not need to submit medical evidence for extenuating circumstances. But will this extend to the more everyday hardship that a lot of students will be put in upon returning back home?

This “no detriment” policy only will help a handful of students, and negatively affect the rest who don’t have coursework to support them and will definitely be producing work to a far lower quality as a result of everything that is going on. On top of the situation final years are having to complete their degree in, we are also painfully aware of the fact that now more than ever, we will be graduating into an economic recession, with our chances of being hired (the reason the vast majority of students go to uni) will be way slimmer, even if we had graduated with the results we deserve, let alone with the results we are likely to get now.

This is an impossible situation for everyone, including university staff, but I know that my dissertation will not be as good as I’d like it to be, and nor will my exams, and the university hasn’t taken that into account. Spending four years at Birmingham coping with mental health struggles, like many students, then getting to this point – it feels like that was all for nothing. A “no detriment” policy should mean no detriment for the work done in a period like this. Surely the thing to do would be to look at a student’s grade in their other years, and assure them that whatever happens, their graduating grades can not go below this?