Students with problems that could cause them to fail assessments are being urged by a campaign group to voice their concerns following a proposed change to assessment policy. By Rajitha Ratnam.

A student under the pressure of exams (Photo by Svein Halvor Halvorsen)
A student under the pressure of exams (Photo by Svein Halvor Halvorsen)

Will Anderson and Siân Hampson from UWE Mental Health Campaign, wrote a letter to the university that said: “If a student with a mental health issue is unaware of this policy and sits the exam when unwell they will not be able to have extenuating circumstances and we fail to see how this is fair.”

The University of the West of England published a draft document on 14 March detailing the proposed changes, which mean if a student submits an assignment or attends an exam, they are “declaring themselves fit to do so”. If they fall ill during the exam, they can submit an extenuating circumstances application to retake the assessment or have it marked again, but this would not cover students with ongoing mental health issues.

The Mental Health Campaign is urging students to share their thoughts with student representatives to combat the alleged lack of consultation with students. Rachel Cowie, Director of Academic Services at UWE, responded to these claims stating: “we are still in the process of working through the implementation with the students’ union and other student representatives.

 “We do everything we can to avoid disadvantaging any student and want to make sure we get this right.” Rachel Cowie, Director of Academic Services

“Following discussion at the recent academic board we have invited the current VP welfare (and hopefully the chair of the mental health group) to meet with us to work through some case studies so we can see what implications it might have on students with mental health difficulties. We do everything we can to avoid disadvantaging any student and want to make sure we get this right.”

Ms Cowie also clarified that students had been consulted at a council meeting in November 2012, where no issues were raised. WesternEye notes that while changes to extenuating circumstances were mentioned, no specific references to ‘fit to sit’ were made.

At the moment, students can submit an extenuating circumstances form which could let them retake an assessment with the potential for the mark to be uncapped where this would not normally be allowed. Some of the reasons that extenuating circumstances may apply include “unexpected deterioration in an ongoing illness or medical condition” or a “major household problem” like a fire.

Mental Health Campaign Team with VP Community & Welfare Tom Renhard, Vice Chancellor Steve West and SU President Charlie Roper
Mental Health Campaign Team with VP Community & Welfare Tom Renhard, Vice Chancellor Steve West and SU President Charlie Roper

Under the “Fit to Sit” extenuating circumstances proposal, if a student had trouble completing work due to either of these reasons, or various others covered under the current policy, they would not be able to apply for extenuating circumstances if they decided to submit an assignment anyway.

Vice-President for Community and Welfare, Tom Renhard noted: “The proposals are of huge concern to the Students’ Union as well as to the Mental Health Campaign and other students who have provided feedback so far given the potential negative impact the introduction of ‘fit to sit’ could have on students. These are being considered as part of a package of proposals of changes to academic regulations and would call on the university to not to continue to pursue trying to introduce ‘fit to sit’ as part of this package.

The current proposals do not provide for students still being able to file extenuating circumstances should they sit an assessment (exam/submission of coursework/etc.). There appears to have been some changes in this stance although this is still not clear from the most up-to-date paperwork that was requested to be circulated to student reps. Concerns were raised at the initial Academic Board meeting it passed at about who would even be in a position to assess whether a person was ‘fit’ to make the decision to sit the exam and allow for an extenuating circumstances application to progress.

Some students when going through difficult periods will attempt to ‘soldier on’ and sit the assessment, believing it shows dedication to their degree, why would we then try and stop this student from submitting extenuating circumstances post-assessment should there be a realisation that perhaps that student was not in the best place to submit the assessment in the first place?

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The Mental Health Campaign Team with president Will Anderson, Vice Chancellor Steve West and SU President Charlie Roper.

As a Students’ Union we do not believe ‘fit to sit’ should be implemented and instead thrown out. The majority of student feedback gathered so far on the proposed fit to sit regulation shows that the view of the Students’ Union is reflective of its membership.”

Similar proposals for changes to extenuating circumstances and the introduction of ‘fit to sit’ were rejected by the Students’ Union at Keele University in November 2012.

Comment below with your thoughts as all feedback will bring attention about the issue to the university.