We Need a Safety Net

Amy Dwyer makes the case for students having been the group most let down by the government during this pandemic

During the last academic year, university students saw a safety net policy, introduced to mitigate against the highly disruptive impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This policy was welcomed by students and lecturers alike and seen as a way to guarantee that students would still be receiving the grades that they deserve. However, there is no safety net for 2020-21. It is difficult to understand this decision, given that students have been even more impacted by the pandemic this year than they were last year, implying that students actually need a more generous safety net.

The Russell Group have released a statement that they won’t be introducing no-detriment policies for students this year. The statement claimed that they ‘recognise that students have faced and continue to face significant challenges as a result of the ongoing pandemic’ but that they do not believe introducing a no-detriment policy for the 2020-21 academic year is neither necessary nor appropriate.[1] It is interesting that the Russel Group claim that such a policy is not necessary or appropriate, yet it was deemed to be so last year.

It is undeniable that students faced extreme hardship and disruption to their studies during the last academic year, with teaching either significantly impacted or ceased completely from March onwards. However, students this academic year have not had any normal teaching. Studying was online from September, including for many courses which would usually comprise of lab and practical work. We have spent the year either at home, or trapped in typically sub-standard housing often with strangers. We have had to deal with family members and friends catching the virus, and in some cases dying. We have had to handle an increased workload with the introduction of asynchronous content that is completed at various points throughout the week. All of this has been without any extra support either from the government or from universities.

The central argument behind the claim that there is no need for a no-detriment policy, is that universities across the country have made significant adaptations to their teaching and support provided to students. Whilst it is clear that nobody expected this virus and there has been attempts to adapt, such as moving teaching online so students can still access lectures. There has been little else that is noticeable and would constitute as substantial mitigation against the disruption caused by this pandemic. Although libraries are open, students have to book slots often long in advance to be able to study; the number of available slots at the library sites are also restricted, which vastly limits the accessibility of on-campus facilities.

Ultimately, students have arguably been the group most let down by the government during this pandemic. We have had our mental health neglected, forced inside disgusting housing conditions, denied access to campus facilities despite paying full tuition fees, experience technical difficulties accessing our online teaching. All of these issues were present last year, but to a lesser extent. Thus, the argument that students needed a safety net last year but do not this academic year, does not stand. Students need and deserve a safety net to ensure that they do not fall victim to the government’s mishandling of this virus.

[1] https://russellgroup.ac.uk/news/russell-group-statement-on-ensuring-fair-assessment-and-protecting-the-integrity-of-degrees/


Amy is the Chair of the Education Network, Policy Officer for the International Network and currently studies for an MA in Politics at the University of Manchester where she has established a YF society.

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