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Students express their discontent with Cardiff University’s safety net policy

Cardiff University's safety-net policy intends to protect students' grades from the Covid-19 pandemic. Source: Cardiff University (via Wikimedia Commons)

By Charlotte King

On April 17, Cardiff University announced its safety net policy for 2019/20. It intends to ensure that students’ academic achievements are not affected by the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic since March 16, 2020.

It also seeks to address any disruption caused by the two bouts of University College Union (UCU) strike action which occurred in both the Autumn and Spring semesters.

In a statement sent to students, the University said that the safety net policy will ensure that module marks accurately reflect the academic standards students have achieved, that degrees awarded by the University are “valid”, and meet the requirements of national qualifications frameworks and Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies.What is the general policy?

The policy has a lot of different elements. Firstly, it enables Heads of School to alter how teaching and assessments are delivered.

Additionally, if students complete assessments but fail a module, the policy ensures that resit marks will not be capped on the first resit attempt. Instead, students can retry a failed double-semester or Spring semester module with no grade cap, and only their third attempt will be capped at the minimum pass mark.

The safety net also allows students to resit an unlimited number of credits during the resit period, and Examining Boards are able to scale module marks when the marks obtained do not meet the expected standards when compared to previous years.

Speaking to Gair Rhydd about the policy, James Wallice, a second-year student, welcomed the principle of the policy but said that the initial announcement was “convoluted”, “unclear” and “[left] students in the lurch.”

Nina White, a second-year English Literature student, also felt that the way the policy was presented “confused students and exacerbated anxieties” about assessments, and said students were left “high and dry” by the University announcing the policy late on a Friday afternoon.How does it apply to final year students?

For students in their final year, alterations to teaching and assessments have left many concerned about how their final grade will be calculated. 

The safety net policy states that for final year students, the University will calculate both a ‘final mark’ and an ‘average mark’ when awarding degree classifications.

The ‘final mark’ will be a student’s overall grade average of all assessments contributing to their degree, whilst the ‘average mark’ is their grade average of all assessments completed before March 16, 2020.  A student will be awarded whichever is higher.

Additionally, Examining Boards can raise a final year student’s degree to a higher classification, such as from a 2:1 to a 1:1, if half or more of a student’s credits which contribute to their degree have been awarded the higher classification.

Speaking about the policy, one final year student told Gair Rhydd anonymously: “I understand that these are unprecedented times and the University is facing decisions that no one could have predicted. However, I feel they haven’t acted quickly enough in easing the pressure on final year students.”

James Wallice also questioned how the University can address the disruption caused by the UCU strike action whilst using assessments submitted during the strike action to calculate ‘average grades’. He calls this “completely counterintuitive.”How does it apply to non-final year students?

For those who are not in their final year but are undertaking assessments which contribute to their final degree mark, the University states that the safety net policy will be updated for future academic years.

Nina White, as a second year student, feels that the University provided “no clarification whatsoever.” It is unclear whether they will be assessing her grades this year and once again in her final year or calculating an ‘average’ now, she said.

In response to these comments, a Cardiff University spokesperson said: “Coronavirus is an exceptional and rapidly changing circumstance. Since moving to remote teaching four weeks ago, the University has worked hard to review how student assessment takes place in the summer, and to develop the safety net policy in a manner which maintains our academic standards and is fair and transparent to all students.

“We are sorry if the detail, complexity and timing of this has caused concern for some of our students. That was never the intention and is the reason the technical policy document was accompanied by more general information on the student intranet.”How does it apply to postgraduate students?

For postgraduate taught students, the University states it cannot calculate an ‘average’ mark because not enough modules were completed before March 16, 2020.

Continuing with their principle of no student will be disadvantaged, the University states that Examining Boards will again be able to raise students’ grades to a higher classification when applicable.

A postgraduate taught student studying in the School of Journalism, Media and Communications said, “My dissertation is due in at the end of August. I’m worried that if the crisis is over by then, we won’t be able to have the same safety net if we’ve had a month or two in ‘normal conditions’.”

A spokesperson for Cardiff University said, “When developing the safety net policy, the University was mindful that postgraduate taught students would not have sufficient marks which could be relied upon to classify the degrees.

“The University can reassure postgraduate taught students that the other measures contained within the policy…should ensure they are not disadvantaged.”

As for how the policy will affect postgraduate research students, a spokesperson commented: “The position for postgraduate research students is different as the format of the degree and its assessment is different from taught programmes. Consequently, the safety net policy does not apply to postgraduate research degrees.”

Full details of the safety net policy can be found on the student intranet.

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