Cancel exams and give finalists choice because of coronavirus, says NUS

The National Union of Students (NUS) asks providers to find other ways for students to progress to their next stage

Universities must put student welfare first and cancel exams, the National Union of Students has said.

The plea comes ten days after the government cancelled this year’s GCSEs, A-Levels and AS levels.

The student body has called for all non-essential formal exams to be cancelled for first- and second-year students. It has also asked institutions to let finalists choose how their grade is decided.

We’re calling for practice which is motivated by student welfare and student choice

“In the current climate, student welfare must come first. It is vital that there are no compulsory exams this year,” said Claire Sosienski-Smith, NUS vice president (higher education).

“Many students are unable to engage with their learning fully, due to a variety of factors, including lack of equipment to support distance learning, caring commitments, stress, anxiety and precarious housing.

“We know that disabled students are being hugely impacted by the pandemic, facing the loss of both university-provided and NHS support, a lack of reasonable adjustments to access online teaching, as well as struggles with accommodation. We’re therefore calling for practice which is motivated by student welfare and student choice, giving students control over their education, ensuring progression and completion when they desire it.

“We know that there is work ongoing with the PSRBs [professional, statutory and regulatory bodies] to discuss maintaining training and standards, and we hope that these discussions focus on student welfare first and foremost.”

Cancel exams for first and second years

The NUS says there should be no non-essential exams and assessments, particularly for first and second years, “who should be allowed to progress based on previous work, with a robust appeal process, and flexibility for those who feel this will disadvantage them”.

Universities who choose to cancel exams for first and second years would, it says, reduce anxiety amongst students and allow time to focus on revised assessments for final year students.

Options for finalists and postgraduates

There are three ways in which final year grades could be awarded, says the NUS. The proposed options are:

  • Grades awarded based on prior attainment
  • Finalists to have option of sitting a redesigned, open-book exam at home or filing a dissertation with a flexible submission deadline.
  • Students to have the option to defer exam term until the autumn – at no extra cost

“It is vital that no student is disadvantaged by Covid-19,” continued Ms Sosienski-Smith, “so we welcome the approach that many institutions are taking to provide students who do take exams with a ‘safety net’ or ‘no detriment policy.’

“We would like to see this in place wherever a student has decided to take an exam or submit assessed work during this time.  Students should be guaranteed that if they get a lower grade than that indicated by their previous work, they will be awarded the higher grade for their year’s work.

“There is significant concern about submission deadlines among postgraduate research students, so we believe that all research students should be granted a minimum six month, funded extension to their submission deadlines to make up for lost research time and disruption to their work. Any student who has to pause their work due to Covid-19 should remain funded during their interruption.”

‘We are most effective when we work together’

“We are working through an exceptional set of circumstances and urge institution leaders and sector regulators to show flexibility and compassion for students and staff as we navigate it. In education, we are most effective when we work together, and we urge institutions to work in strong partnership with their students’ unions to ensure that students are at the heart of solutions, we are all working to protect student welfare and that first and foremost the voices of the most impacted students are not lost during this crisis.”

Read more: Students in gig economy need sick pay too, says NUS

Profile: Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS president

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