Monday 14 April 2014

Mental Health Campaign voice concern over policy change

A student under the pressure of exams (Photo by Svein Halvor Halvorsen)
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. 
Will Anderson and Si├ón 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 wouldn’t 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.”

“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.

At the moment, students can submit an extenuating circumstances form which could let them re-take an assessment where this wouldn’t 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.

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 that 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. 

“Some students when going through difficult periods will attempt to ‘soldier on’ and sit assessments, 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 wasn’t in the best place to submit the assessment in the first place?

“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.

A version of this story appeared on Western Eye.

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