Words by Georgia Keetch

EXCLUSIVE – We spoke to two key players who have been part of the new policy being put into place this academic year.

Sussex University has officially announced  that there will be a no detriment policy put into place this academic year. This has come after weeks of students asking the University to put something into place as the pandemic is constantly making student life and workloads even harder. Decisions concerning the policy have been made through the University Executive Group (UEG) and the University Education Committee (UEC). 

As details continue to emerge, it is certainly clear that it will not be similar to last years and according to the SU in an officer update, due to the fact that Sussex is one of the first to announce a policy like this, there is a potential of the university itself ‘being accused of devaluing the quality of their degrees’.

Official communication from the University on the 5th of February said that “We entirely recognise the challenges of this year for assessments, and we are determined to support you by ensuring that your grades are not negatively impacted [..] These measures are part of an ongoing process of supporting your education”.

In the same email, the University said that the reason that this policy is so different to its predecessor is because “last year our final no detriment policy could be announced in one go, as it came towards the end of the academic year […] this year we have taken a more comprehensive approach, providing a range of measures to be applied across the year”. The University has consistently let students know that “no detriment measures would not be applied to reduce grades only to uplift them”.

The Badger had an exclusive interview (over email) with Professor Kate O’Riordan, who is currently chairing the Education Continuity and Students Group (ECSG) whilst Professor Kelly Coate is away. This new group was created so that staff could “work together much more quickly and responsively during the pandemic; more than existing systems allow” and has representatives from University schools and from the Students Union. 

When we asked Professor O’Riordan whether she believes if the no detriment policy is fit for purpose, she responded by saying “Yes […] it has a clear framework with the capacity to be responsive” and then further explaining that “The policy this year has two phases because we have two assessment and examination periods, and it applies at two levels- individual students and whole cohorts”. The Badger now understands that the new policy and its two phases mean that “grades will be protected across this year’.

As a result of this interview, The Badger can reveal that the three main principles of the new policy are that “grades are protected as much as possible, no detriment measures can apply equally to as many students as possible and that quality assurance regulations are satisfied”. 

The Professor then went on to explain how the new policy was created, formed and developed by saying that students were involved at all parts of the process, which included “Student Reps, connectors, advocates, ambassadors, and students across the schools in lots of different ways”. What was clarified in the interview is that in some cases “decisions about this policy and other education issues are made through the University Education Committee (UEC), and the University Executive Group (UEG), led by the Vice-Chancellor”. 

We communicated to the Professor that at times information passed on to students has been both confusing and worrying; so The Badger asked whether student feedback has been a priority or just a lot of paperwork. In her response she said that she was “sorry that students have had this experience of our communications” and that her and her team would be open to receive feedback from Sussex students. The ECSG is also currently “working on FAQs for issues in the area […] and an open forum as well”.

The Professor finished off her response to us by saying that “I know this is a really difficult time for everyone, and there are really significant inequalities that are being exacerbated through the pandemic”. Finally, she relayed to us her pride at how the Sussex community has come together, and that she “really appreciates all the work that staff and students are putting in to try and hold onto some kind of continuity of education, research into music, and to keep pretty important questions about access to education and social justice visible in what seems to be impossible conditions”. 

 The Badger had a second email interview with another key player within this new policy; Dr Graeme Pedlingham, the Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor of Student Experience. He revealed to us that this new policy was in the works after the announcement of a new lockdown in January this year. Dr Pedlingham said that “we really wanted to let students know as soon as we could […] to provide some early reassurance”. 

The Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor also said that the reason this policy will be different from its predecessor is simply due to where we are at in the academic year. In his email response, he states that “We don’t have Non-Covid impacted grades at the same level […] but we are very confident that impact on students can still be mitigated through the new measures announced”. 

We put the question of how much Dr Pedlingham thinks this new policy is adequate for safeguarding students’ grades, and his response was optimistic. “We are doing this from two angles” he said, “For example, where individuals have been impacted by particular circumstances […] we have expanded exceptional circumstances and self-certification so that we can also take action at an individual level”. 

To conclude, the Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor wanted to put across that Sussex University has student support as a priority. “The only reason for doing a no detriment policy is to protect students’ interest […] that does include protecting the quality and high value of your Sussex degree”. Dr Pedlingham revealed to us that the University is in touch and consulting with professional bodies to make sure our degree’s are not being devalued as a result of this new policy. 

Professor O’Riordan and Dr Pedlingham both relayed to The Badger that they welcome student feedback and thoughts on any aspect over the new no detriment policy.

Picture Credit: Simon Carey

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