As a student magazine, we absolutely support the call for a ‘safety net’ policy issued today by peer publications. This year has placed a heavy burden on students. It is imperative that the Russell Group of universities accord them protection from the impact of the pandemic, which has seen their students, undergraduate and postgraduate, lose direct access to their support network and other means of managing stress. The statement issued today is completely right to highlight the toll this has taken on student mental health.
There are, however, some issues that we believe require public clarification, to stand the best chance of helping our community.
First and foremost, we would like to see more detail on the demands made in the statement. While the reference to the University of York’s policy is a helpful benchmark, Wessex Scene has been made aware of significant flaws in that scheme. These include a lack of support for students attempting to improve their marks, the rushed character of its development, and the ambiguity of its announcement, all of which caused significant stress to students. This invites misunderstanding among students over what the intended outcome of today’s statement is. Wessex Scene spoke to a final year student at the University of York who expressed the following concerns:
The policies were rushed and ambiguous, giving no information about how the reweighing of grades would actually work, and causing further stress for many final years hoping to improve their grades. It was only after backlash and many complaints from students that this was clarified, but the time it took for this to happen created unnecessary anxiety in an already turbulent time. The implementation of this has not helped lessen any anxieties about our assessments and students are still feeling unsupported. Many students, including myself, would have preferred if the university had waited and come up with a more considerate and fair plan, instead of leaving students feeling hopeless and worried that these are the only measures that will be introduced
Secondly, we are unsure about the no detriment policy for all universities as set down in the statement. Many university students, including the University of Southampton, are in the midst of exams, and many students will have already had their assessments marked. Others, such as most of those at the University of Oxford, one of the originators of today’s call, will not have assessments until the summer. This gives their universities more time and space to formulate a plan. We have received assurances from the organisers of the editorial that it is not their intention to promote Oxford students’ interests alone, but we would like to see this conveyed more clearly.
While the content of the editorial is fundamentally sound, albeit lacking clarity on certain points, the manner in which it makes its case can be accusatory in places where the need for this approach is unclear. While we are not opposed to attacks on the government (as our opinion section will attest), Wessex Scene is unsure as to how that will help students make the case to the Russell Group.
A further point is about the statement’s comment on representation in student media. As much as we would like to be able to state that all students are adequately represented in our media, that is unfortunately not the case. It is our belief that implying otherwise sidelines the important work that remains to be done in this area.
Regrettably, we were unable to have these points included in the published document due to the short notice at which we received the text. But we are happy to make the case for them going forward, and we welcome any opportunity to work with our fellow publications to help our student communities meet the challenges facing them today.
In the meantime, we will be raising our concerns with the relevant bodies, both in our community and our institution.