Opinion: UoB need to understand their own policies before publishing them

The ‘no detriment’ policy has caused mass confusion

Ben Bloch is a fourth year French and Spanish student at The University of Bristol.

This piece is a response to the confusion surrounding the uni’s decision to adopt a “no detriment” policy in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You will suffer no detriment.” What does this actually mean? This was the phrase first used in an email sent by Professor Tansy Jessop to all students on Monday in an attempt to provide reassurance to students.

The email did nothing other than confuse, upset, and anger students as we all realised that none of us had fully understood what the new policy will mean in practice.

The Bristol Tab has received messages from students of all year groups, but especially Final Year students, asking for confirmation that it means that, if they perform poorly in an online assessment, their final degree award will not suffer.

When the email finally arrived, group chats blew up with students debating whether or not it is a “safety net” type policy, as implemented at other institutions.

I would love to be able to say that the uni has clarified it to us here at The Bristol Tab, but that is not the case, and we remain as unclear about it as those who have contacted us, commented under various Bristruths, discussed on group chats, and debated on Twitter what the uni actually meant in their long-awaited email.

I stand by Monday’s article, as that is how we still interpret the policy, and the University has not corrected it, nor asked us to take it down, but we certainly agree that what the policy will mean in practice is very ambiguous.

To be clear, I do not want to criticise the university for the time it took to actually attempt to clarify new measures; this is an unprecedented global pandemic, and no reasonable person can expect the institution to be able to adapt thousands of courses and units within a matter of hours.

However, it is completely unacceptable that widespread anxiety and worry has been caused by the fact that management did not explain the policy sufficiently in the first place.

A reply to a student asking for clarification

Many staff in schools found out about it at the same time as students, which only adds to the worry, as it seems that management is not communicating with the people supposedly implementing the policy.

Screenshots of staff replies to questions about it have been sent to group chats, with some staff agreeing that it sounds like a “safety net”, and others disagreeing entirely. No wonder students feel confused and angry!

This global crisis is having life-altering consequences; everything has changed in the past two weeks, even for Senior Management. Most staff are working from home, and I have experienced myself the difficulty of communicating and coordinating via only Skype and email.

The same goes for students. Except for the fact that we, as students, have the challenge of not knowing what is being discussed in those Skype meetings that will have an overwhelming impact on our Degree Awards, and futures.

The decisions being taken are monumental, especially for Finalists, and the fact that the University announced such a massive policy decision, without understanding it themselves, is disgraceful.

I want to acknowledge the hard work that staff in schools across the University are putting in to make fair and reasonable adjustments. It can’t be easy, and I know that they want the absolute best for us.

But the issue remains; University management announced a policy, and then cannot explain it. Therefore, on behalf of thousands of students, I strongly urge the Senior Management to clarify this policy as soon as possible, and put an end to the anger and confusion that Monday’s email caused.

The Bristol Tab contacted the University of Bristol on Tuesday and Wednesday seeking clarification.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We have been working hard to ensure we have a clear message about the safety net we are putting in place for students through our ‘no detriment’ policy.

“We will release the full policy on Friday morning, after we have ensured that we have a consistent approach across all Schools and Faculties. We understand students’ anxiety to have more specific details, but please bear with us and be assured that we are doing our best to support you, both academically and personally.”