Oxford SU lays out response to ‘safety net’ decision

Image Description: Students sitting collection exams in Balliol Hall.

The Oxford Student Union laid out the steps it was taking to support students in relation to recent statements by the University at a meeting earlier today. At the meeting, the SU laid out their commitment to ‘strengthen the mitigating circumstances process’. This is to include lobbying the University to allow for ‘self-certification’ in such applications, removing the requirement for medical evidence.

The Student Union are now moving to push the University for clarity on what policies can be put in place for each subject this year.

They are also working to see the University expand its mitigating circumstance criteria to include disruptions related to the pandemic, The Oxford Student has heard. This would also involve lobbying for mitigating circumstances to affect grades rather than the current system of affecting degree classification only. The meeting also saw the Student Union commit to lobby for better support for post-graduate students, especially those most affected by a lack of access to resources.

Oxford University Student Union told us:

“We’re pleased to share our plan to get fair outcomes for students which outlines the key steps we’ll be taking to work with students and the University to get the best deal for student’s exams, assessment and degrees.”

As The Oxford Student reported earlier this week, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Martin Williams, has confirmed that the blanket ‘safety net’ policy used in Trinity 2020 would not be continued this year. However, the Student Union are now moving to push the University for clarity on what policies can be put in place for each subject this year.

In addition to calling for Prelim exams to be scrapped this year in favour of college-based collections, the Student Union are also requesting that the University make changes to ‘mitigating circumstances’ criteria permanent.

During the meeting, the SU explained their inability to call for the re-introduction of a no-detriment policy for some subjects last year, stating the lack of pre-pandemic work completed by the majority of finalists as the reasoning for this. Prelims and collections have been deemed by the SU to have myriad issues for use in deciding final grades.

The SU were also keen to stress that the decentralised nature of the university and its faculties meant that a variety of lobbying was needed.

Instead, they have outlined their strategy for the University to ‘Reweight’ and ‘Rescale’. ‘Rescaling’ would see the University compare the exam result averages for 2021 and compare them with pre-pandemic performances, adjusting the mean of grades achieved this year in the event of underperformance by students.

‘Reweighting’ is a process that would be undertaken by individual departments to alter how specific assessments are ‘weighted’ in relation to the final grade. Students would then be awarded either their reweighted grade or their original grade – whichever was higher.

“Oxford is complicated and decentralised.” The Student Union told us.

“Our plan has two key areas. First we’re releasing a set of University-level asks that we’ll be campaigning on to ensure the best possible policies are in place and make sure students aren’t disadvantaged. We’re pairing this with toolkits and support to help students including course reps work with their departments to develop the best possible asks for their course.”

They continued:

“This will empower students to work with University departments to ensure a fair outcome for their course. At Oxford SU we’ll be there to help every step of the way with dedicated policy advice to ensure the course level asks secure the best deal. Plus our free, independent and impartial advice service is ready to help any student through any individual concern they may have such as applying for mitigating circumstance. We remain committed to actively lobbying and working closely with the University to ensure all students get a fair outcome.”

The SU did recognise that some subjects do not have coursework, and thus ‘reweighting’ may not seem as beneficial to them, but stated that they felt this approach would lead to the best outcomes for students on the whole. They further pointed out that reweighting could also involve changing the ‘weight’ of different exams or weighing some exams more than others, depending on what is most appropriate for the course.

In light of this, the SU are in the process of lobbying for course-specific approaches to be taken to ensure that any decisions made are best for the cohort as a whole.
The SU were also keen to stress that the decentralised nature of the university and its faculties meant that a variety of lobbying was needed, and that they would support action by students at various levels.

For students seeking support in individual cases, the Student Union recommended reaching out to their advice service – available here. Student course representatives are also advised to contact the SU’s policy officers when formulating their own responses, who can offer support and advice on how to proceed. They can be contacted at vpaccaff@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk.

For more information, please go to: https://www.oxfordsu.org/fair-outcomes-for-students/

Image Credit: Piers Nye