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2,000 sign petition against ‘omnishambles’ decision on No Detriment Policy

MSP asks Education Minister to weigh in over “concerns” regarding Senate vote against No Detriment Policy

By: Anttoni Numminen

Photograph courtesy of author.

Over 2,000 people have signed an AUSA petition calling for a new Senate vote on a COVID related No Detriment Policy (NDP), which would mean that assessments undertaken in the second semester would not detrimentally impact students’ degree outcomes.

The petition, from the Students’ Association (AUSA), was created in response to the University of Aberdeen’s Senate, the institution’s top academic body, voting against an NDP proposal at its meeting on 3 February.

Following the meeting, a pressure group was set up by students to oppose the decision and it has been vocally campaigning alongside AUSA for the adoption of an NDP.

Similar policies to the one proposed at the University of Aberdeen have been implemented at other universities across Scotland. However, the reasoning behind the Senators’ decision is not clear, though some have suggested that implementing an NDP would “devalue” degrees in the eyes of future employers. *

As an alternative, a school-by-school decision-making process has been floated as well as potentially focusing on other policies which take into account mitigating circumstances.

Third-year student Rian-James Hiney described the Senate’s decision as an “omnishambles”, while Connor McCausland, a fourth-year English student, said he had considered the University “supportive” until the pandemic struck.

“Their support has bled away, and this is simply the final straw[...] I feel personally that my final result and degree will tank due to the University's inability to protect their students.”

The Gaudie spoke to another student who had hoped a No Detriment Policy would be passed for the sake of their mental health and expressed disappointment in the Senate's decision, which was divided by 40 votes in favour and 56 against.

Gabi Paškevičiūtė spoke of how having to remain away from friends in Aberdeen and the overall impact of COVID-19, including family members contracting the virus, resulted in “hospitalisation to a mental institution for a couple of weeks.”

“I'm still not much better, and if I have another flare-up of my mental health, there are barely any safeguards to help me.”

The fourth-year History and IR student also spoke of feeling “betrayed” by the elected staff members in the Senate who voted against the policy, as she had supported UCU strike action over ‘pay and conditions’ last year.

The Gaudie contacted the Aberdeen University and College Union (AUCU), which represents staff such as lecturers and librarians, for its position on the No Detriment Policy, but this was met with a response of “no comment”.

However, many lecturers have expressed their support for the policy and have vowed to support students as best they can.

Principal George Boyne’s decision on Thursday 11 February to call an emergency meeting of the Senate to discuss "a revised approach" was met with mixed responses.

Photograph: Principal Boyne.

The ‘Students For A No Detriment Policy’ campaign welcomed the Principal’s decision to call the additional meeting, which is scheduled for March.

But they also raised concerns over the lack of detail regarding what would be decided at the additional Senate meeting: “It is concerning that there was no mention [in the announcement] of a No Detriment Policy, and we would like to put on record our worries that what will be on the table is going to be No Detriment in name only.”

Speaking of the March meeting, AUSA's Vice-President for Education, Ondrej Kučerák, said: "Our students have been loud and clear about a need for a strong No Detriment Policy and they will not settle for anything less. Students will see right through any attempt to pass a weaker version of the policy and will be very angry

about it."

Photo: AUSA VP for Education.

The stand-off, which shows no signs of simmering out, now appears to be taking national proportions. Last week MSP Kevin Stuart told The Gaudie he had written to Principal Boyne and the Scottish Government’s Higher Education Minister, Richard Lochhead, regarding the issue.

In an email seen by The Gaudie, the SNP Parliamentarian said: “I have concerns around this decision given the undoubted stress and difficulties that students have suffered.

I note that other universities have adopted a no detriment policy to protect students at this time and I would be sincerely grateful for your assurances that you will reconsider this decision.”

Sofia Puentes, a student member of the Senate who voted in favour of the No Detriment Policy, said she was willing to understand most of the arguments made against the policy, but concluded that the final decision was “really unfortunate”, as UoA students would be put at a “disadvantage” compared to students at universities which have ND Policies.

* Several people, including Senators, were contacted by The Gaudie with the aim of giving more context to opposition to the NDP, but they declined or did not respond.


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