January exam mitigations - mess or mastery?


By Sana Sampson, First Year English Literature

In a flurry of emails over the weekend, the SU and University released a package of mitigations for the January examination period. The mitigations build on policies employed last summer and include a number of channels through which students can receive extra time on timed assessments and coursework.

The University claims it has found a balance between maintaining the integrity of Bristol degrees while allowing for the unprecedented challenges facing students during the coronavirus crisis.

Concerns surrounding grade inflation in this assessment period have been quashed through the University’s commitment to assess each student’s circumstances on an individual basis. The University believes this system will be fair to all students without sacrificing academic standards with the ‘one size fits all approach’ seen in summer 2020.

In a statement released on Friday 15th January, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and the Academic Registrar announced:

‘Senior officers from the University have been working closely with Bristol Students' Union, giving careful consideration to the views of students and academic staff. The result is a package of mitigations that supports academic outcomes without diluting the quality and integrity of Bristol degrees, while recognising and addressing the specific circumstances of this academic year.’

The University believes this system will be fair to all students without sacrificing academic standards with the ‘one size fits all approach’ seen in summer 2020.

Regardless, the SU still calls for more in the form of a non-detriment policy - a safety net to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far. The SU team also notes a number of unspecified measures on which they have yet to reach an agreement with the University. In a similar statement released on the same day, the SU Undergraduate and Postgraduate Officers noted:

‘We're proud of what we've managed to win for students so far, but we know the current mitigations do not go far enough and will continue to fight for more comprehensive support for the summer assessment period.’

The SU has marketed this package as a significant triumph. Following a petitionary campaign kickstarted on 1st December 2020, this package represents two months of talks with the University and collaboration with other Russell Group Student Unions.

After the release of the SU and University statements, Epigram spoke to students to ascertain their view on the mitigation package:

‘I don’t know what it means. The emails that they send – I don’t even read them. I just feel like the SU is shouting in the background and making all this fuss but not really doing anything.’ - Zara Abdullah, Second year, Law, International student

‘I vaguely skim read the email [on mitigations]. It’s not really relevant to me. … I think they’re focusing on the wrong things honestly. The SU’s has not really been listening to students, like when they lobbied against in-person teaching - I thought that was the complete opposite of what students want. I’d rather they concentrate on tuition fees. We’re paying for a product and we’re not getting that product.’ - Alex Clothier, First year, Geophysics

The SU has marketed this package as a significant triumph.

‘I still don’t honestly know what the SU package is but I personally would’ve really benefited from a no-detriment policy and I think all the arguments about how it devalues your degree are wrong. I think that’s quite a privileged position. The extensions and extenuating circumstances are really good. The no-detriment policy would really take a weight off my shoulders.’ - Lily Jones, Third year, Politics and International Relations

The SU will continue to meet with the University to discuss ‘blanket measures’ that will prevent any student from ‘falling through the cracks’, particularly in preparation for the summer exams.

Bristol University announce mitigation package for exam season
Opinion | Bristol University needs to offer greater Academic Mitigation in the January assessment period

After the examination period, the SU encourages all students to attend the Bristol SU Education Network Forum. Feedback from the forum will be used to focus what the SU later lobby the University for in seeking further support for students during the summer assessments.

An overview of the mitigations package may be seen below:

• You do not need to provide supporting evidence when submitting your extenuating circumstances
• You can self-certify for 24-hour exams and you can defer your seven-day timed assessments by using the self-certification process
• You can access an automatic one-week coursework extension on request, without evidence
• The performance of student cohorts graduating this year will be reviewed against previous years unaffected by COVID-19
• The methods for classifying taught postgraduate Masters’ degrees in 20/21 will be revised
• If you have Alternative Exam Arrangements you can have two days extra time to take seven-day assessments

What do you think about the University's mitigation package for the January exam period?

Featured Image: Epigram / Patrick Sullivan