To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the ‘no detriment’ policies adopted by some universities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notwithstanding the disruption of the COVID-19 outbreak to the higher education sector, students deserve appropriate support and recognition for their hard work and dedication. Many universities and colleges have moved adeptly to develop new ways of delivering courses through online teaching and alternatives to their usual end-of-course exams.
As higher education providers are autonomous institutions, they are responsible for determining the way their courses are taught, supervised, and assessed. The government expects providers to make all reasonable efforts for student achievement to be reliably assessed and for qualifications to be awarded appropriately. The Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England, has issued guidance to the sector that sets out expectations about providers’ approaches to teaching and assessment during this time.
Some universities have put in place policies stating that students should not be awarded a degree classification below their level of academic performance prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is intended by providers as a safety net for students to ensure that they are not unfairly affected by these challenging circumstances.
The guidance from the OfS is clear that standards must be maintained but that changes to assessments may be required in some circumstances. If changes are needed, students’ achievements must be ‘reliably assessed’. If a provider is absolutely confident that they already have enough evidence to make a reliable assessment of a student’s achievements, it will sometimes be appropriate to use that evidence to award and classify a degree award.
More often, however, we expect that providers will need to continue with assessment and follow the OfS’s guidance on the practical next steps. It may not be appropriate to operate a ‘no detriment’ approach for all courses if, for example, essential pieces of assessment cannot be completed.
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has also published a series of guides and information to support providers to maintain academic standards and to support student achievement during the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes a paper published in April, attached, which provides an overview of what 'no detriment' policies aim to achieve. The paper also provides an overview of some of the measures that providers can put in place to ensure that the academic standards of awards remain robust while also recognising the challenging circumstances for students.
We expect providers to develop solutions appropriate to each course, considering the needs of individual students. We also expect them to ensure that continuing and prospective students receive the clear, accurate, and timely information they need to make informed decisions. If students have concerns, there is a process in place. They should first raise their concerns with their university; if their concerns remain unresolved, students at providers in England or Wales can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint.