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Report: Senate remains divided on No Detriment Policy

Wednesday’s Senate meeting was seen as an improvement by some supporters of the policy

By: Anttoni Numminen

Caption: Screengrab of Senate meeting 3 March, 2021

“It’s like saying my left hand is in ice-cold water and my right hand is in boiling water, so on average I am fine”, is how the Head of the Engineering School addressed an aspect of the new No Detriment Policy (NDP), making the point that “not too much attention should be paid to averages”.

The emergency meeting of the Senate on 3 March was called by Principal George Boyne to allow for academic discussion of the new NDP. The policy goes to a vote on 17 March.

The new NDP, called ‘Protection from Disadvantage: Comprehensive Measures for Fair and Consistent Assessment in the Context of Covid-19’, was introduced by Boyne as a replacement for the NDP voted down by the Senate last month, and described by him as a policy that would have implemented “accidental unfairness”.

One of the first speeches came from Dr Brice Rea, who asked for evidence that all students had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, suggesting that while everyone had been impacted, not everyone had suffered negatively as a result.

“We in the geography department have not seen evidence that all students have been negatively impacted, in fact, a colleague has suggested that final-year students are doing better because they have had more time to read”, said Rea.

The Principal responded by saying that what had heard from students, was that they had been negatively impacted, with Vice-Principal Education, Ruth Taylor echoing Boyne’s comments.

The Students’ Association’s Vice-President for Education, Ondrej Kučerák, told the assembled academics that the policy was not just in place to address the impact of the pandemic academically but to address the impact it had had on students’ lives, not least access to resources such as the library.

“Students have made a lot of sacrifices to do as well as they have, going above and beyond to reach levels that were previously achieved", continued AUSA’s VP Education, who will be seeking re-election in the upcoming student elections.

However, not all agreed, with a couple of senators saying they would support the policy but only because they did not think it would affect their departments, while others suggested a policy was not needed as students were still doing well.

Dr Sarah Woodin said: “all the changes in assessment have enabled our students to do better, so this policy seems like a double uplift.”

Meanwhile, Professor Dragan Jovcic from the School of Engineering, said he was not able to support the policy as “there is no evidence that grades have been negatively affected, on the contrary.”

Jovcic said that he did, however, support an aspect of the policy, namely the relaxation of the amount of assessment that is currently required to be completed to allow the examiners to award an overall course mark from 75% to 70%.

Others suggested that grade inflation was an issue they were worried about, while others emphasised the need for “standards to be maintained”.

Representatives from DHP and Language and Literature were broadly supportive of the policy, while a lot of the opposition appeared to come from departments such as geography and engineering.

Professor Igor Guz, who delighted the meeting with his analogy of ice and boiling water, summed up his thoughts by saying: “Some students will do better than expected, but some who expected to receive firsts won’t, and the policy is in place to catch those students”.

With opinion divided and the first NDP losing by 16 votes last month, the outcome of the Senate meeting on 17 March could go either way.


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