As we know COVID-19/Coronavirus has impacted the lives of everyone in Ireland. In particular, college students have been negatively affected. Our entire college experience and how we have been taught to learn and study has been uprooted and we have been forced to try and adapt our study to the new reality we face.
Universities have been working hard to help reduce the impact COVID-19/Coronavirus has had on our studies but I just feel that these measures do not go far enough to help the most vulnerable students. While this pandemic has impacted the universities as well as students, I feel that universities must bring in ‘no detriment’ or ‘help not hinder’ policies.
What is a ‘no detriment’ policy?
When universities implement a “no detriment” policy, this means that students cannot fall below the grade that they currently have to this point, but they can improve their grade. For example, a student who got a second class honours in semester one, cannot then be marked lower than second class honours even if they perform below this mark in their semester two exams. However, if they were to get better grades in semester two, their grade could be increased to a first class honours.
Why is a ‘no detriment’ policy important now?
No Detriment is important so there is an equal playing field for all students to succeed in these trying times. There are students who face extremely tough living standards that will really impact their ability to perform as well as they did last semester. Some of these students may be experiencing abuse at home or suffering with their mental health. Others are required to care for close loved ones who may be sick or at risk. This may extend to those whose siblings are in their care where parents are required to leave the home for work in essential services.
There are those with learning disabilities who may now be unable to access the required level of supports that would be available in the college setting. There are those who simply lack important resources that they would otherwise have in college such as quality broadband, stationery, even resources that are often taken for granted such as heating. Some students cannot afford to fail if they have graduate programmes and jobs lined up for September. If they are required to repeat the year in September as a result of their current situation, they may lose out on the future they have worked so hard for. As a result, many students will struggle with anxiety and stress.
Fairness for all students?
Many colleges have a system in place where people who are struggling can apply for extra relief on grades and so forth. In other words, their circumstances would be taken into account when being given their grades. Usually this requires formal evidence such as a doctor’s note but this has been relaxed in some colleges. However, I believe that this is not enough and can also be detrimental in itself. It creates a climate of unfairness where some may, without the need for formal evidence, abuse the system as they may see it as a way to get higher grades without needing to submit formal proof of their situation.
While this is unfair to students who do not exploit the system, it is even more so unfair to students who actually require this support. Many people struggling with abuse, anxiety, depression and poverty, may not feel they are able to fill out a form outlining their struggles. They may feel uncomfortable with the process of what is technically a judgement i.e. telling them what their hardship is worth in grade points.
We must understand that there is often a climate of silence around these issues which prevents people who are struggling from speaking up. Thus, relaxing relief application requirements will not truly help those who need help the most in my opinion.
Help, not hinder
Overall, I believe a ‘No Detriment’ policy does not remove the incentive to work hard. Rather, it creates security for those who are disadvantaged or face difficult circumstances at home. I think a ‘no detriment’ policy would work better than relaxing requirements for extra support. We must look beyond our privilege to extend a hand to those without equal opportunity to succeed and pull them up. I urge universities and colleges in Ireland to follow the lead of universities such as Cambridge University in helping their most vulnerable students. Please help, not hinder us.