Russell Group promises “effective, compassionate and empathetic” approach to grades

The group of leading UK universities says all students will receive a fair grade in 2021, but rules out “algorithmic approach” of no detriment policies

As the new national lockdown keeps most students off campus until at least mid-February, the Russell Group has said it will make allowances for the disruption caused by Covid-19 when awarding grades – but has ruled out an “algorithmic approach to provide individual ‘no detriment’ or ‘safety net’ policies”.

In a statement published yesterday (7 January), the group of 24 leading UK universities promised to ensure fair assessment while still protecting the integrity of degrees.

It acknowledged the challenges faced by students as a result of the ongoing pandemic, but says its member institutions are “confident” that measures put in place to help – new blended learning models, support services and adapted assessment methods – will ensure students receive the grades they deserve.

Students will be “treated fairly with respect to past and future cohorts” , says the Russell Group, with the effect of Covid-19 on individual students taken into account, and mitigation measures that are as “effective, compassionate and empathetic” as possible.

We will continue to work to mitigate the impact of the pandemic this year, ensuring students are treated fairly with respect to past and future cohorts – Russell Group statement

Measures being taken by Russell Group universities include:

  • “Dedicated and streamlined processes” for students requesting deadline extensions or special consideration/extenuating circumstances and the removal of the requirement for written supporting evidence.
  • Exam boards to ensure that all students, as individuals and as a cohort, receive fair outcomes that are comparable with those in previous years.

 

The statement rules out an “algorithmic approach” to ‘no detriment’ or ‘safety net’ policies, saying they are neither “necessary or appropriate this year” and saying that for many students such calculations would be impossible due to the lack of assessment data available from before Covid-19.

Despite the “exceptionally difficult circumstances”, it says, Russell Group members still have a duty to “protect academic standards and uphold the integrity of our degrees”.

The Russell Group statement in full:

Russell Group universities are fully committed to ensuring the fair assessment of our students and their academic outcomes, and to upholding the quality and the integrity of our degrees.

We recognise that students have faced and continue to face significant challenges as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Our students have risen to those challenges by embracing blended learning models, following the rules set out by Government and working with us to help manage outbreaks of the virus.

In response to the pandemic, our universities have re-designed their learning, teaching and assessments for the 2020/21 academic year. They have put in place new teaching and learning plans and a range of support services so students can continue their academic study. They have also adapted assessment methods so students can demonstrate their knowledge and attainment of learning outcomes.

Our universities are confident that the steps taken this year will ensure all students are given a fair grade. We therefore do not consider that using the same algorithmic approach to provide individual ‘no detriment’ or ‘safety net’ policies, which were introduced by some institutions as an emergency measure at the end of the last academic year, is necessary or appropriate this year. Indeed, in many cases the use of such algorithms would not be possible given the scarcity of pre-pandemic benchmarking data available for many students.

Russell Group universities have a duty to all students to protect academic standards and uphold the integrity of our degrees – Russell Group statement

We will continue to work to mitigate the impact of the pandemic this year, ensuring students are treated fairly with respect to past and future cohorts. We will also of course be taking their individual circumstances into account – in line with current approaches taken in all our universities, but with an enhanced focus on the COVID impacts. 

Such measures are being tailored by universities to their particular structures and assessment systems, but examples include dedicated and streamlined processes for students requesting deadline extensions or Special Consideration/Extenuating Circumstances and removing requirements for written supporting evidence.  Exam Boards will also ensure that all students, as individuals and as a cohort, receive fair outcomes that are comparable with those in previous years. 

Our universities will continue to work in partnership with our students to review our approach to mitigation measures and make any necessary changes to ensure these are as effective, compassionate and empathetic as they can be, and that they recognise the challenges faced by all students and the exceptionally difficult circumstances that some students are facing this year.

At the same time, Russell Group universities have a duty to all students to protect academic standards and uphold the integrity of our degrees. This is critical to ensure that it remains possible to differentiate the overall performance of students and that the degrees of our graduating students are viewed as a mark of quality and continue to command the confidence of employers and professional bodies.


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