The SU's open letter is demanding a 'no detriment' policy in response to the disruption caused by Covid-19Louis Ashworth

Cambridge SU released an open letter this afternoon (13/01) demanding that the University adopts a ‘no detriment’ policy for this year’s examinations due to the “stark reality of the current situation and the scale of COVID-19-related disruption to students’ lives throughout this academic year.”

Addressed to Vice-Chancellor of Education Graham Virgo, at the time of publication the open letter has been signed by over 350 students and 6 organisations, including Cambridge Defend Education and the International Students’ Campaign.

The open letter, while recognising that Cambridge has taken measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 disruptions and that “staff have worked hard”, stresses that the “scale of this disruption necessitates adjustments to workloads and exam arrangements”.

The letter highlights that “the extraordinary circumstances that led to the adoption of emergency ‘safety nets’ did not stop with the end of the previous academic year.”

Last year, following the announcement that Easter Term would take place remotely, the University adopted a ’safety net’ policy for final year undergraduates. This ensured that they would not receive a class mark that was lower than what they had received the previous year.

The open letter is not referring to this algorithmic guarantee of a minimum grade as was adopted for final year undergraduates last year, instead seeking a ‘no detriment’ policy which attempts “to ensure that students’ attainment is not negatively affected by the pandemic.”

Stressing the importance of student representation, the letter reprimands the University for “categorically ruling out the possibility of adopting a set of ‘no detriment’ policies without any consultation from students”, which the letter denotes as “a disregard for the sacrifices that students have already had to make and will continue to make to keep up with their studies this year.”

It also criticises the “burdensome” mitigation process, arguing “The sole burden of applying for mitigation should not fall on individuals who have been disproportionately affected by circumstances that continue to impact the experiences of every student this year.”

The open letter makes six demands of the University, including that it “rescind its support for the Russell Group Statement’s blanket ruling-out of a ‘no detriment’ policy for this year’s assessment”; that all first and second year undergraduates should automatically progress to their next year of study and that the University should implement a set of “robust” ‘no detriment’ policies produced in consultation with student representatives.

The letter also calls on the University to reintroduce a second examination period for students unable to sit assessments in Easter term and to “ensure there is no loss of income for hourly-paid teachers” for the hours of work they were scheduled to deliver, regardless of whether or not these allotted supervisions go ahead.

In a press release to Varsity, Cambridge SU’s Undergraduate and Postgraduate Access, Education and Participation Officers, Esme Cavendish and Siyang Wei commented: “Since the announcement of a national lockdown, we’ve spoken to a huge number of students who are rightly concerned about the impact this will have on their education, and angry that their wellbeing is once again being overlooked by the government.”


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Cavendish and Wei encouraged “students to work with each other and with their academic reps in Departments/Faculties, to ensure that those at all levels of University decision-making are aware of the strength of student feeling”. They continued: “it’s absolutely imperative that the University and its Departments and Faculties understand students’ concerns and involve them in decision-making - these letters should only be the beginning.”

The SU’s open letter follows subject-specific open letters addressed to the English, PBS and HSPS Faculties.

The University has been contacted by Varsity for comment.