Back in March 2020, when the first lockdown was announced, the university implemented a “help not hinder” policy. This meant that students' final academic year average would remain the same or higher than the average they had achieved before Covid-19 struck.
The combination of adapting to online learning, self-isolation and concern over their health and family worries, has made it harder to concentrate and maintain motivation, students say.
However, almost a year on and a whole semester into online learning, the university has discontinued this policy. A fourth-year student has launched a petition to “Reinstate the no detriment policy for final year students at the university of Edinburgh”. By February 17 it had been signed by more than 9,481 students.
"These students deserve the same level of protection that the Class of 2020 were afforded, if not more, and so we are calling for the ‘no detriment’ policy to be reinstated." - J. Grey, the petition's creator
The petition states: “We appreciate the University is doing all it can to help us, but a safety net is an absolute necessity at this point to protect students’ grades, mental health and trust in our educational provider.”
"There’s a lot of pressure on final-year students to achieve grades comparable with previous years in order to be equally considered for jobs and give due credit to the hard work already done during our degree." - Ella Jones, Edinburgh University student
Bee Anderson, a final-year illustration student, described how hard it has been throughout the pandemic: “I’ve found it incredibly lonely and isolating. So much of my enjoyment from my degree stemmed from the ‘studio culture’ we fostered as creative students. It acted as a sounding board for ideas, and was a really supportive environment that kept us all sane in stressful deadline times!
"As someone who lives alone, it has been really difficult to stay motivated and perform at my usual level with my studies." - Bee Anderson
Bee questioned the university’s justification for not re-implementing the policy. “It was mentioned in a recent email issued to students that due to the University of Edinburgh’s status as a Russell Group university, the ‘no detriment’ policy would not be reintroduced. It was recently brought to my attention that the universities of York, UCL and Bath – all Russell Group universities – have either already reintroduced the policy, or are looking into reinstating it.”
The petition added: “This past year has been devastating for the mental health of so many people – particularly students. Many of us have been completely isolated from friends and family – conducting all of our academic activities in the same small space we sleep and eat in, while paying extortionate fees for a service that is, to put it frankly, not what we agreed to.”
Bee also drew attention to the impact that the refusal to reinstate the non-detriment policy is having on the well-being of the students.
“As someone who has suffered from mental health issues which have been exacerbated by the stressful situation of the pandemic, I know that the policy would be so beneficial to my own mental health and well-being, as well as that of countless others. The fact that some universities have taken steps to accommodate students by reintroducing the policy, whereas others haven’t, means that the playing field is not level.”
Demand for student counselling services at the University of Edinburgh has increased by 270 per cent over the last eight years, with the coronavirus pandemic being cited as one of the main recent factors behind calls for support with mental health.
Edinburgh University responded by highlighting the measures it had put in place to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. For students in years three and four, if they have failed 60 credits on their course, they can be awarded credit for the failed courses “on aggregate”.
This means that if a student has passed their other 60 or more credits, and has an average of more than 40% (the standard pass rates for universities), then they can be given the credit for their failed courses.
Also, all marks are processed through external examiners, who are expert staff from other universities. The board of examiners will now be able to take into account the exceptional circumstances affecting the delivery of the courses.
However, the university made no comment on the wellbeing of its students or any remarks about the non-detriment policy.