By Holly Beaumont, Investigations Editor
As January exams approached, students waited eagerly for the Russell Group’s verdict on a ‘no-detriment’ safety-net policy. This verdict came on 7 January, to the disappointment of many students, when it was announced a safety-net would not be put into place.
A proportion of students who live in disruptive households, or those hailing from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, have been found to have had their studies impacted disproportionately by lockdowns and online learning.
Epigram spoke to students from the University of Bristol’s Widening Participation group about how the lack of a safety-net affected them this exam season. All three students conveyed the ways that they feel disadvantaged with regards to studying in their home environments.
Bristol uni not granting a no detriment policy is my Joker origin story— Handforth PC Clerk (@frogmella_) January 7, 2021
Second year History student, Oliver Mutton-Sturm, said, ‘We don’t necessarily have the same support structures in place. That can be with family, or even just having a decent place to study’, he says.
‘I’ve got siblings that are loud and my mum works in a Covid ward, and she’s waking up at 5am for work.’
Third year History student, Mehmed Yumakci, echoes the same sentiment, saying, ‘I share a room with my two teenage brothers. Working at home is not conducive to productive exam revision.’
Robyn Collip, second year Economics student, speaks to similar challenges. When I asked what the greatest disadvantage students from lower income households have to contend with, she replied ‘the environment we are supposed to work in’.
‘I have a lot of responsibilities at home’, she said.
‘I have a lot of responsibilities at home’
While studying at University might be preferable for most students, it seemed particularly helpful for the students I spoke with.
‘When I was at home over Christmas it was almost impossible to concentrate. I definitely rely on university libraries to produce my work’, said Mehmed.
A University of Bristol spokesperson has said that ‘although access to libraries is restricted in-line with government guidance and requirements, anyone with essential need who cannot work elsewhere will be granted access to the Arts and Social Sciences Library or Veterinary Sciences Library if they book using the study seat booking system’, a move that was introduced early in January.
‘This includes students experiencing digital poverty, unsuitable study environments, or those on specific courses,’ they added.
Yet for Oliver, and like many students facing a travel ban throughout lockdown, this has simply not been an option and he remains studying at home in a poorer learning environment: ‘spending money on food each week and even getting a train ticket back to Bristol is too much of a financial burden for me’.
‘My studying would probably be better at Uni, but saving as much money as possible is paramount for me right now’.
Many of the students feel the build-up of outside pressures, including financial burdens and caring, which can make academic work considerably more difficult to complete.
‘My mum is a key worker and a single parent. I have younger siblings and I’m looking after them because they aren’t in school’, said Robyn.
Similarly, Mehmed said, ‘I’m expected to look after my younger siblings and entertain them.’
I’ve been working multiple jobs, whilst also trying to do coursework and then revise for exams
‘I’ve been working multiple jobs, whilst also trying to do coursework and then revise for exams’, Olly said.
The University of Bristol spokesperson added: ‘If the pandemic is causing financial hardship, students are strongly urged to apply for funding. We have a dedicated coronavirus impact fund, in addition to existing hardship funds, which can help with essentials such as rent, food, a laptop and WiFi.’
Regarding the impact of the current situation on exams and assessments, the University of Bristol have insisted they are ‘confident’ with their ‘existing processes’, which they wrote in a university-wide email to students on 7 January.
Students have been able to self-certify to defer 24-hour exams and seven-day timed assessments without providing supporting evidence and have also been offered a guaranteed one-week coursework extension on request.
The University of Bristol spokesperson further commented that the University has ‘robust examination board processes, and any academic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be carefully considered on an individual basis, and, where necessary, at a more general level. This package has been designed to support students to achieve fair assessments and academic outcomes, while also ensuring the quality and integrity of their degree.’
For many students though, these measures do not go far enough. When asked whether they feel the measures in place are helping them, I am met with a resounding no.
‘No. Absolutely not’, said Robyn.
‘If they have put anything in place to help me, I haven’t noticed it’, Oliver echoed.
If they have put anything in place to help me, I haven’t noticed it
‘No. Any measures they might have brought in does not reflect the difficulty of the circumstances’, said Mehmed.
The Russell Group’s rejection of a safety-net was grounded on the basis that they deemed it ‘not necessary’. The circumstances for some students, however, mean that having the assurance of a safety-net might lessen the enormity of the pressure’s they face, both academic and otherwise.
All three students disagree with the Russell Group’s claim.
‘I think they are wrong. This is my degree, there are no take-back’s and I can’t control the circumstances’, said Robyn.
Your January assessments will be completely online (unless your school has told you otherwise). We have robust examination board processes, and any academic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be carefully considered (1/2) pic.twitter.com/retlx4dq8C— Bristol University 🎓 (@BristolUni) January 8, 2021
‘They were able to introduce a safety-net last year and the situation hasn’t changed’, said Oliver.
‘When it comes to these critical decisions, such as ‘no detriment’ policy, they are really leaving disadvantaged students out to dry’, he added.
A petition for the University of Bristol to revoke their decision garnered over 4500 signatures. This, however, did not change the outcome of the decision.
The University of Bristol’s decision to adhere to the Russell Group’s decision was not entirely widespread. The University of York, for instance, decided to implement a more comprehensive safety-net in spite of the Russell Group’s stance and other non-Russell Group universities such as UEA and SOAS, did the same.
A University of Bristol spokesperson has also added: ‘We appreciate how concerned students are feeling about the impact of the pandemic on their studies and have introduced a robust package of mitigations to take account of individuals’ circumstances during the national lockdown.
‘Where students have immediate issues that need addressing, they should approach their personal or senior tutor, or the wellbeing service. Student Information Service can also support and signpost where students have particular needs, such as issues with technology and equipment.’
Featured Image: Holly Beaumont
If you are in need of financial support as a result of the pandemic, you can access the University of Bristol’s coronavirus hardship fund here.