‘No Detriment’ or ‘No Improvement’? Students React to Classification News


With most faculties releasing information on how the University’s previously-announced ‘no detriment’ policy will work in practise last night, most students have responded with disappointment and outrage on the speed of communication, how the policy will affect their averages/degree classes, and how Semester 2 work in most cases will not be taken into account.

Wessex Scene reached out to students for their opinion this morning after many students across faculties took to social media to express their disappointment with various aspects of the process.

Following our call for student responses to this issue, it is clear that students had two main concerns: firstly, the way in which Humanities students are still waiting to hear about this policy whilst everyone else has received correspondance; secondly, how Semester 2 modules would not be taken into account when calculating averages (with the exception of borderline cases).

One academic representative* had this to say on both issues:

Arts and Humanities students constantly feel sidelined by STEM students and forgotten about by the uni – this is no different. By letting us by the last to hear, and that delay being DAYS not hours, is utterly disgusting and has left Arts and Humanities disillusioned with the university more generally. Our lecturers are fantastic but beyond that the University does not seem to care about us. Furthermore, the University has clearly got no idea of the stress that completing assignments in this time has caused; to now be told they don’t count whatsoever means we’ve suffered entirely unnecessarily. We were promised no detriment, but this seems wholly detrimental to the academic and mental wellbeing of many students.

The delay in correspondence for Humanities students

With other faculties receiving correspondance last night/this morning, many Humanities students felt puzzled by the lack of information given to them, although empty folders promising information on classifications were posted on Blackboard yesterday evening.

This morning, Humanities students received the following email, which states that they will receive information classifications and averages ‘at the latest by the end of Monday’. This is despite the policy appearing to be uniform across faculty. The email can be seen below:

Credit: Anonymous UoS Student

In response to this delay, which comes after previous assertions that this information will be available to students after the Easter break, one BA History finalist had this to say:

The fact that Humanities students are the last to find out at a University that is already accused of prioritising their STEM students is quite frankly disgusting. Third year students who have willingly given up Grad Ball, celebrating dissertation submissions with friends and so much more would do it again to save lives, but all they want is an answer to how their degree will be decided- something the University still has not given to all of them. If this had happened in my second year of doing history, my grade average would have dropped by an entire 4 marks. How does the University plan on dealing with these ramifications for those going into third year? What will be done for the University’s final year students? Who will answer for the decisions that have been made that have completely neglected the student voice?

A Humanities postgraduate student also added that ‘the fact the Faculty haven’t actually told us when everyone else knows is very very shitty. I get that they have so many different courses in the Faculty but honestly it’s just unfair leaving us out of the loop. They should’ve told every student at the same time.’

In response to these concerns, a University spokesperson has said this:

‘We wish to thank all of our students for being patient as communication from the Faculties has rolled out this week. This is a very large and complex exercise, done via remote working for the staff involved. Also, the specific arrangements for each programme vary due to the complexity of our curriculum, therefore it wasn’t possible to send a single all-student message on this matter at the same time.’

How Semester 2 marks largely no longer ‘count’

Another widely controversial issue amongst the student body is how Semester 2 marks will no longer be taken into account when calculating averages. Instead, they will only be taken into account in borderline cases.

One Bsc Pharmacology student questions the fairness of such a policy:

‘I just think its is totally unfair. I understand that people have had a really tough time through this and they are rightfully being protected, but the current policy means that people who have had a tough time and managed to keep working through aren’t being acknowledged … which just isn’t fair to me. A no detriment policy is fair. It would mean no change for people who haven’t been able to improve whilst rewarding those who have put the work in.’

Whilst a second-year English student says that they are ‘angry on behalf of the whole University’, as they question how to make sense of this policy in light of previous correspondence sent out by the Vice President (Education) Alex Neill:

In his email on 24th March, Alex Neil states, and I quote:

“If you do well in assessments submitted after 22 March, of course, your academic year average could go up. […] To be absolutely clear: completing the remainder of your assessment tasks can only have a positive impact on your year average mark.”

To go back on his word, after so many of us have worked our socks of for assignments for the remainder of this Semester, is ridiculous and a breach of trust. Some students didn’t perform as well as they could have in Semester 1 due to special considerations or circumstances, so the “no detriment” policy was a their lifeline.

A re-evaluation of their decision needs to be taken.

In similar vein, another student questions what caused this ‘backtrack’:

If the University are seriously considering this decision to allow, I do hope they are prepared for the backlash. Many students didn’t perform as well in the previous semester, whether that was due to personal circumstances or otherwise, and they had hopes to improve their grade for the year because they were told that completing any further assessment can only have a ‘positive impact on your average mark’. What happened that required such a substantial back-track? I will be contesting this to the highest degree possible.’

For students on healthcare courses, one student representative* argues that this policy puts them at a significant disadvantage:

The new policy means that none of our take home medical analysis that replaces placement will contribute to our grade.  Some students chose the course especially because this kind of work plays to our strengths, particularly those with dyslexia who are now being solely judged off of assignments (putting them at a significant disadvantage).  We get no pay for placement, and because that can’t happen we are all sitting at home completing a piece of work alone with no lectures or teaching, and we are paying for the privilege!  Throughout the process we were reassured that the university would do everything to benefit us, but now our entire grade is based off 4 of the hardest pieces of work, and is not reflective of ability.

Another second-year undergraduate argues that ‘a grading system like this is not representative of a student’s achievements! I was unfortunate as my favourite modules this year were in Semester 2, so I have no way of reflecting my interest in these modules on my grade. All the drive I’ve had this term, before and after the no detriment policy, is going to be abandoned ! Other UK universities have fairer policies in place. Do we, as students affected, not get any say in this?’

Students on STEM courses have also reflected their disappointment in this policy, with one ECS student saying the following:

In essence, the feeling in my cohort in ECS is one of disappointment. I am a third year computer scientist, who has just completed their dissertation. We would of originally had no detriment information shared before the dissertation deadline, but this never materialised due to the delays in deciding the no detriment policy by the university.
Information on how awards and classification would work with the no detriment policy was promised for April 20th by Professor Alex Neill in their April 8th email. This never materialised. It was then promised for the week of May 4th by the SUSU President, Emily Harrison, in a Facebook post on their SUSU Facebook account. This, once again, didn’t materialise.
With respect to the contents of the policy, we can only describe ourselves as being let down against previous promises made by the university. The university stated in their email on March 26th that our average prior to March 22nd can only be improved on and that work submitted after this date could only improve upon our average. We took this to mean that the work for this semester could still contribute towards our year’s average.
This is no longer the case. The modules in second semester that weren’t our dissertation have essentially been tossed and count for nothing. Our dissertation, which previously accounted for 37.5% of our year, now accounts for 50%.
People in our cohort put in a significant amount of effort in getting pieces of coursework due after March 22nd done; it’s not a stretch to say that the aforementioned March 26th email reassured students that these courseworks should be completed as normal, if not encouraged them to get it done to a good standard.
What is more damning is that the University in the past months proclaimed that it was talking to student representatives and departments in order to solve this conundrum. However, when ECS staff approached the University board working on this with suggestions for classification in ECS, they were ignored and sidelined. The proposal was thrust upon them. Having discussions with a Faculty Officer, they felt that their proposals have been entirely ignored. The university said that they were having regular discussions with the focus group of faculty officers and that they were working hard with this group, but the group was not convened over the Easter break. The first time that the focus group of faculty officers saw the policy was on Tuesday at 2pm, when it was distributed to departments.
It is not a stretch to say that their proclamation of “listening to the niversity” was an exercise in PR.

Another postgraduate STEM student had this to say:

As I understand, the whole point of no detriment is that it is a backup if your grades have been affected this (2nd) semester not a final mark you’re given regardless of performance this semester. It seems to me that If students achieve higher than their current average in further assessments, then they wouldn’t be able to raise their final mark because this policy completely ignores Semester 2 marks! The policy seems to only work (well) for those who have already achieved 70+ in their 1st term, because they now guaranteed a distinction classification. Meanwhile, people who got less than 70 or 60 they now limited in the ways in which to improve their average (since Semester 2 is pointless now), which leaves us with just a summer project (which home based) to enhance our average! So this “no detriment” policy is in fact more detrimental to my average than the traditional way of calculating the average. Many MSc students expect their grades to be much higher this semester than last semester, and sadly with this policy all these grades won’t matter!

Further to this, a postgraduate Humanities student argues that this policy will impact them following ill health in Semester 1:

‘If it’s the same as everyone else’s for my degree, then I’ll actually cry! I’ve spent the past 2 months trying super hard to write 5 assignments, one of which was then scrapped anyway, and now it counts for nothing? I still have assignments to submit, my Semester 1 marks aren’t as good as I would like because I was really ill last semester! I just think the whole thing is unfair on final years/postgrads!’

In response to student concerns about how Semester 2 marks will be impacted with this policy, a University of Southampton spokesperson said the following:

The University of Southampton announced in April that we would take a ‘no-detriment’ approach to minimise the impact, as a result of COVID-19, on students’ ability to demonstrate their academic achievement this year.

From yesterday (14 May) all taught students were to be emailed by their Deputy Head of School (Education) – or similar – to outline what this meant for each specific student/programme in relation to how their degree would be awarded and classified.

Degree classification is based on completed modules. Completed modules always go through a rigorous process of moderation before the marks are finalised and released to ensure that the module marks awarded reliably and consistently reflect the academic standard achieved by the students taking the module.

The modules students had completed by 22 March were Semester 1 modules and these are the most secure marks to use for classification. In Semester 2 different students completed different amounts of assessment before 22 March and the working group of staff and students that developed the classification policy came to the conclusion that the fairest way to define the no detriment position and to ensure that degrees for all students had the same value was to base it on the Semester 1 modules.

Students are encouraged to visit this webpage for more information.

If students want to express their concerns over this policy, they are encouraged to contact their academic reps, which they can find details for here.

Alternatively, they can contact their Personal Tutor or the VP Education and Democracy for SUSU at vpeddem@soton.ac.uk.

* Please note that all student representatives are speaking within their capacity as individuals. Their views do not reflect that of the University or SUSU.


This article was written by somebody who is no longer active with Wessex Scene. If you wrote an article which is now associated with the archive account but would like your name credited, please contact us!

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