Today we are launching our campaign to ensure Oxford students get the best deal for their degrees.
The University must recognise the academic challenges students are facing this year due to the pandemic. We are calling on the University to implement an empathetic approach by reassessing their plans for workload and assessment. Whilst it may take some time for the University to finalise any changes to course assessment, it is paramount that the University acts as soon as possible to outline their planned steps and changes to assessment where possible.
Our priority is two-fold:
To ensure individuals with personal challenges (e.g. bereavement, mental health issues or lack of access to resources) are not disadvantaged, by securing a strengthened individual mitigating circumstances process
- To ensure cohort level challenges are recognised and dealt with by the university and by departments fairly to prevent students being disadvantaged by the pandemic in their degree.
That’s why our campaign is split in two, with Oxford SU lobbying at the University (with your help!) and us supporting YOU to lobby at the course level to get the deal that works best for your cohort. We need your help, sign up to join and support our campaign here
What is a ‘safety net’?
A safety net can be defined in lots of different ways and was deployed in many different ways at the University of Oxford last year.
One way that a ‘safety net’ can be defined is as a ‘no-detriment’ policy where students couldn’t get a lower grade than their banked work pre-pandemic. This isn’t possible because in most cases we haven't got banked work pre-pandemic for students doing exams in 2021. We've only got prelims (which are unfair and a bad predictor of finals) and collections (which are unregulated and uneven across colleges).
Our understanding of 'safety net', like what Oxford implemented for finalists last year, is a system of policies put in place to mitigate the detrimental effects of the pandemic on students with exams and coursework this year.
This is our campaign for fair outcomes for students and these are policies we believe Oxford should implement this year to achieve them.
Our university level asks
We’re asking the University to commit to on all courses:
To rescale and/or re-weight: exams and coursework
We're calling on all departments
- To engage with their students to produce solutions that are fair for their cohort
- To engage in this process transparently
- To put policy in place to ensure that cohorts' outcomes will not be negatively affected by the pandemic
What do we mean by this?
Rescaling is a process by which exam paper or coursework outcomes are adjusted to ensure that if exam paper or coursework result averages are lower than in pre-pandemic years, the results of a cohort are adjusted so the mean is equivalent to that of a pre-pandemic year, or a mean of three pre-pandemic years etc.
Re-weighting is a process by which departments adjust the weighting they give to different formal assessments a student may take during their course, like placing more value in a dissertation or a final exam in determining a student's final degree outcome depending on what makes sense for that course. Student should be given the best result out of reweighted/normal.
This will ensure that students get the best deal possible and the recognition they deserve of the hard work they've put in and the incredibly tough circumstances they've faced this academic year.
What else are we asking the University for?
- Self-certify: Allow for students to self-certify for mitigating circumstances and remove the burden of proof from students. Students should not have to prove that living through a pandemic has affected them and their studies (streamlined and self-directed)
- Marks not just Classifications: Ensure the Mitigating Circumstances process impacts actual marks and degree classifications by default
Support for Students:
- Financial support: Expand the Uni's COVID-19 Scholarship Extension Fund and COVID-19 Hardship Fund.
- Mental health: Ensure students can access the support they need through ensuring student welfare services can be accessed remotely.
- Academic: Boost support by offering more regular catch ups with tutors and providing sessions on issues such as task management and dissertation writing.
What are we asking the University to do for students with exams?
- Prelims: Cancel preliminary examinations for 1st year undergraduates and replace them with college-based collections, which allow all students to proceed to 2nd year.
- Future Years: Ensure mitigating circumstances policies implemented this year remain in place for students who matriculated by MT20.
- Extensions: Allow departments to give deadline extensions for coursework, where possible and beneficial for students.
- Communicate and co-develop: Ask that departments make changes transparently and in partnership with students.
What are we asking the University to do for research students?
- Fees Grace Period: Extend continuation fees grace period for Postgraduate Research students for at least Trinity and Michaelmas 2021.
- Blanket funded extensions: Join the national calls for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to offer blanket funded extensions; call on the University to match these extensions for non-UKRI funded research
Sign up to support our campaign here
We'll also be supporting every student to come together with their course to lobby their department on the specific best deal for their cohort. The diversity of course and assessment types at Oxford means these some decisions will be made at the departmental level. We're committed to securing the best deal for students at the University level and empowering students to work with course reps and divisional reps to create a strong set of asks for their course. We'll be providing support including toolkits and workshops to help students secure these deals.
Together, we'll get the best deal for Oxford students: fair outcomes for all.
We've got another session on Wednesday 20th January 3-4pm where we'll be providing an update and more support for students: https://www.oxfordsu.org/ents/event/2156/
How can you help?
Support the campaign
Sign up to our campaign so that the sabbatical officers can show university leaders that students are united on this year's exams and support our asks.
Our sabbatical officers and divisional reps will lobby on these issues at divisional boards and key University groups such as Education Steering Group, Taught Degrees Panel, and Education Committee to ensure they’re adopted.
Lobby your departments
- Use our resources and understand what changes you can call for at the course level.
- Organise your course/cohort and agree a clear set of asks for your department.
- Appoint leaders (we’d suggest your course rep/JCC rep) to liaise with Oxford SU. Our policy team will check your asks and empower you to work with your department/faculty to get the best deal for your cohort.
- If you’re a course rep/JCC rep/student leading your course’s asks get in touch with us and we can help you ask for the best possible deal and give feedback on – firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you a course rep? Register here
We will continue to lobby the University including at a divisional and departmental level on these issues over the coming days. We understand the complexity of these challenges given the diversity and linearity of many Oxford courses but are committed to working with both you and the University to find a solution that works for all Oxford students.
Policy: Our policy team can read through your course level asks to check you'reasking for the best possible deal: email@example.com
Sabbs: We're happy to help or give feedback on emails to heads of department or supporting/checking over your course level asks. Vpaccaff@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk
Comms: Our comms team can give you advice and support if you arecontacted/covered by any local or national press - we're here for you! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Advice: As always, you can get individual info, support and guidance from Oxford SU’s free, independent and impartial advice service here.
Rep Coms are termly meetings for Reps from every common room- the full schedule will be sent to Reps and Presidents this week – make sure your Reps attend to support each other, hear from the sabbs, and find out how campaigns are progressing in other colleges. Any questions – email@example.com
Take a look at the slides from the last session: Fees, funding & exams: How to get the most from your degree
Take a look at the slides from the latest session: How to get fair outcomes for your course: What we're doing and how to get involved - Sign up to the event
How can I get help on my individual issue/what are and how do I apply for mitigating circumstances?
Our free independent, and impartial advice service at Oxford SU can provide your options and support you through the mitigating circumstances application process. Here’s the info about our advice service and how to get in touch.
Mitigating Circumstances notices to Examiners (MCEs) are notices students can write to register with the examiners that they have been affected by an issue, e.g. bereavement/accident/field trip or resource issue.
University information on mitigating circumstances and MCEs is here
Is fair outcomes for students for postgraduate taught (PGT) students?
Yes, students need support, especially for 1 year courses. Our asks apply to all students with exams and assessment. Our VP Graduates sits on all the education groups to ensure graduate voices are amplified.
Why can we get the same policies put in place for last year (Summer 2020)'s exams and assessment?
Some of the policies we're asking for are the same (e.g. self-certify mitigating cert, appropriate reweighting). Some can't be done because students don't have pre-pandemic banked work (e.g. dissertation done pre-covid) and we can't use prelims/collections. That's why our call for reweighting + rescaling asks along with everything else will secure the best deal
Why should we trust and support the SU campaign?
Experience: we played a pivotal role in securing the deals for Summer 2020 assessment, Role: we're in the main education groups- we can ensure issues are raised and actioned. Policy: Dedicated policy team for support plus national networks (e.g. NUS).
What are we doing at a national level?
We’re supporting NUS’s Students Deserve Better campaign to get action and ensure students aren’t disadvantaged by the pandemic. See the campaign’s priorities and support them at: https://www.nus.org.uk/campaign-hub/students-deserve-better
Who are the Sabbatical Officers?
We’re a team of 6 students elected annually and in post for a year from July-July. We work full-time at Oxford SU (yes, we’re paid too!) to represent students and campaign on a range of issues. You can see what we do on our website and if you think it sounds fun, check out our leadership elections where you can run to be a Sabbatical officer for 2021-22.
What are the divisions and divisional boards?
Oxford is divided into 4 divisions: Medical Sciences (MedSci), Humanities, Social Sciences (SSD), and Mathematics, Physical, and Life Sciences (MPLS). All main academic departments are in one of the four divisions. Each division has internal decision-making bodies, like divisional boards, which are attended by the Oxford SU Divisional Representatives.
Who are the divisional reps?
These are students appointed and supported by Oxford SU to represent students at the divisional level. Contact them:
Social Sciences Division
Undergraduate Rep: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postgraduate Rep: email@example.com
Medical Sciences Division
Undergraduate Rep: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postgraduate Rep: email@example.com
Undergraduate Rep: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postgraudate Rep: email@example.com
Taught Rep: firstname.lastname@example.org
Research Rep: email@example.com