The University of Manchester (UoM) has announced they are removing students’ right to ‘automatic extensions’ after a review of the assessment pledge. The Students’ Union (SU) Executive Team are fighting for these extensions to continue.
What was the University’s 2020/21 Academic Pledge?
Last year the University had accepted the fact that Covid-19 had sent the world into “extraordinary circumstances.” Hence, they deemed it important to make a 5-point assessment pledge with the support of the SU executive team. The five points included:
- Automatic Extensions: giving every student the option to push two of their individual coursework assignments back by a week.
- Simplifying Mitigating Circumstances: removing the previous requirement of needing medical evidence to qualify for mitigating circumstances.
- Moderation in line with the previous years: make sure the marks for the academic year equal to before covid.
- Regulation Changes: extending the “boundary zones” by 1%. For example, to be considered for a distinction students earlier needed to get 68% but now it has been dropped to 67%.
- Waiving of re-sit fees: in case a student needs to resit their examination, they can now do so without paying extra.
What changes are being made to the 2021/22 academic year?
This year, UoM has put all these points into review. Following several meetings between the SU Executives, Vice Deans of the Faculties and the Vice President for Teaching and Learning, the University of Manchester have announced the continuation of four out of five aspects of the assessment pledge, but not automatic extensions.
Students were informed of the discontinuation of the automatic extension policy in an email sent to all students explaining that the policy wouldn’t return this semester due to “mixed feedback – with many not finding it to be an overall helpful measure.”
The SU executive team are firmly against the removal of automatic extensions but have suggested the University has been a “brick-wall” when addressing this, having made up their mind on removing the extension.
Why are Automatic Extensions deemed important by the SU?
Melody Stephen, General Secretary has said Humanities students will be facing the biggest brunt of this ruling, as the University currently takes three weeks to respond to their mitigating circumstances request. This is despite the fact Humanities is the largest school in the University.
UoM have sought to address this by reducing the mitigating circumstances process from 3 weeks to five days. Last year’s automatic extension, however, acted as a safety net for students, allowing, in the University’s own words for students “to choose how to resolve any challenges arising from deadlines bunching up.”
This was the case for many of the students we spoke to, with students who had essays due within a week of each other using the automatic extensions to give them both “an appropriate amount of focus”, important as they need “good grades” to apply to study abroad. Students with anxiety also found the automatic extensions useful to relieve stress.
Automatic extensions also reduced the mental toll of applying to mitigating circumstances and were especially useful to disabled students. UoM is seeking to do this instead with a reformed mitigating circumstances process that has removed proof requirements such as mandatory death certificates. However, the SU execs are not confident that the university will make the process as easy as it has seemingly been described.
Students also felt that keeping the automatic extensions allows them to protect their privacy and use the extensions when needed even if it was not deemed as a ‘mitigating circumstance’ by the university. For example, the current UoM guidelines state mitigating circumstances can be used for “The death or serious illness of a family member or close friend.” One student we spoke to used their automatic extension because their friend’s father had died, and they wanted to be there to support them.
The SU executive team told the Mancunion that they have tried to make attempts on compromising with the University. Yet again the university has stuck to removing the automatic extension.
Miguel the Education Executive Officer commented, “The University is not at a point where mitigating circumstances are enough to support all students. Automatic extensions are a safety net to ensure students are allowed to keep personal matters private whilst they work through them.
“Until the University has improved its system for reporting mitigating circumstances which enable students across campus from all demographics to report an issue, automatic extensions are still highly necessary.”
“I fully understand that the automatic extensions won’t be a suitable process forever however whilst we are still in the middle of a pandemic, I personally don’t feel comfortable with the removal of the choice to automatically and privately extend a deadline.”
The University of Manchester responded stating, “Following mixed feedback from our students last year regarding automatic extensions, with many not finding them to be helpful overall, we will not be offering them this year to all students. Issues students raised included deadlines bunching up later in the semester and causing more stress, as well as some delays in releasing feedback and marks. “
“From a welfare perspective, we are also concerned that offering automatic extensions without any reason being given, may mean that we are not alerted to any potentially serious health or personal issues for that student, to provide wider support.”
“Any arrangements that individual students have for automatic extensions through the Disability Advisory and Support Service (DASS) will remain in place.
“Any student can still request an extension through our mitigating circumstances process, which has a number of improvements this year. We will continue working with our Students’ Union to find other ways of helping all of our students manage their assessment deadlines.”
What can students do to protect the automatic extension?
The use of these extensions in the previous year just shows how much the students felt a need for them. The SU executive team have asked students to fill out a petition form. This form asks students whether they think automatic extensions should be kept and if so then why? Along with this, Executives have asked students to comment on posts, DM them or email if they have any opinions on the matter. The execs wish to show this information to the University and tell them why keeping the extensions is in the best interest of the students.