What is a Safety Net?
The term ‘Safety Net’ refers to the measures that were introduced by some UK universities last year for those students due to sit their final exams in the summer of 2020.
The aim was to ensure that all students received at least the degree classification they were on track to achieve before the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic developed.
At Newcastle, our Safety Net in 2019-20 was a number of measures, including a baseline average algorithm for many programmes. This used marks achieved in Semester 1 – before the full impact of the pandemic hit the UK – to inform progression and classification decisions.
Will students still be offered a Safety Net this year?
We know how important this is to our students and we have developed a Safety Net which we believe will be fair for everyone.
All our students worked hard for their place at Newcastle University and our finalists are completing their degrees under the most difficult of circumstances. Whilst it is vital we preserve the value of final degree classifications, it is important to support our students and recognise the difficulties they are facing through a Safety Net designed for the particular context of 2020-21.
Safety Net 2020-21 includes a basket of measures that recognise the fact that every student will have been impacted differently by the pandemic but also supports ALL our students to demonstrate what they have achieved.
Developed in discussion and consultation with NUSU, in particular the issues identified in NUSU’s Near Miss Policy proposals, our aim is to support all our students to fulfil their potential while also ensuring the integrity and standards of our degrees.
What measures are being put in place as part of Safety Net 20/21?
In recognition of the impact the recent deterioration in the Covid-19 situation has had on students – both academically and emotionally – in 2020-21 the University is providing the following measures:
Moderation of 2020-21 grades against the performance of previous years for all modules and at all stages.This includes:
- Scaling up of marks - where results are significantly below what would be expected compared to historic performance, academic units will scale these marks up to bring them in line with past performance.
- Profiling of marks. We will review the profiles of marks in 2020-21 against the profiles for the last four years for all students, with particular consideration for those students who may have been especially impacted by the pandemic, such as our Widening Participation students and those with caring responsibilities.
Allow more discretion by boards of examiners in relation to final classification
At Newcastle, our boards of examiners already have significant academic discretion for final classification of all taught awards and this can only be used to benefit students. Currently the discretionary zone is within 2 marks of the classification boundary.
In light of the challenges faced by this year’s cohort, we are:
- Recommending to Senate we amend the University’s examination conventions for 2020-21, to increase the discretionary zone from 2 marks to 3 marks.
Introduction of a revised policy for the late submission of assessed work
In recognition of the pressure our students are under, we have changed the University’s policy on the late submission of assessed work.
Previously, late submission up to a week after the deadline has led to a capped mark, and submission later than a week after a deadline has resulted in zero marks.
From the start of Semester 2, this has been replaced with a policy where penalties for late submission will operate on a sliding scale, with students losing a set number of marks for each day after the deadline an assessment is submitted.
A streamlined approach to PEC
It has already been agreed the University will streamline the PEC process by not requiring students to submit any supporting evidence in respect of any PEC application on health, bereavement or Covid-19 related issues.
We have also expanded the admissible grounds for seeking a PEC, to include unexpected IT or software failure issues.
Timing of deadlines for the submission of assessed work
Many students have raised concerns around the bunching of assessment deadlines and the negative impact this has on their learning in any circumstances, but particularly during the current pandemic. In response to this, two actions are being taken:
- The University’s Assessment and Feedback Policy has been amended with immediate effect so that academic units/subject areas may not set a single deadline date in any single Semester for the submission of summatively assessed coursework and this will be in place for Semester 2 and 3 for the current academic year.
- All academic units will be required to review their schedule of deadlines for Semester 2 and Semester 3, 2020-21, in consultation with their student representatives.
Increasing the entitlement to resits for taught postgraduate students
All undergraduate students are already entitled to one attempt to resit any failed modules. For taught postgraduate students the right to a resit for any failed taught modules (i.e. excluding the project/dissertation) is currently limited to no more than 40 credits for masters and PG diplomas and 20 credits for PG Certs. Recognising the current challenges our students face, Senate’s approval will be sought for a change to our examination conventions for 2020-21 to allow taught postgraduate students a single resit attempt as of right for all their taught modules and to allow them to progress to the dissertation/final project carrying fails from the taught modules.
Why is a baseline average not being implemented this year?
The fact that the ongoing pandemic and its impact has been present throughout the current academic year means that there are no assessment outcomes for 2020/21 to provide the basis for a ‘baseline’ algorithm and no previous marks at all for Stage 1 students.
Why is the university not using an algorithmic approach this year?
A small number of universities have introduced algorithms, either by amending the weighting of years or by heavily ‘discounting’ in their classification algorithm; for example, by only counting the best 60 credits in determining degree classification.
We do not feel this algorithmic approach could be implemented at Newcastle in a way that would be fair to all students due to the nature of our classification weightings. We have different approaches to degree weightings across the institution and the algorithmic approach would disadvantage some groups of students if applied in a one-size-fits-all approach.