In line with other institutions participating in the UK national marking and assessment boycott (MAB), Royal Holloway senior management have announced sweeping deregulation and emergency measures as a desperate attempt to ensure that students can graduate or progress in their studies. These regulations consist of a set of emergency regulations and accompanying guidance on scaling [link to PDF].
The headline measures proposed are:
- To allow modules with just 20% of completed and marked assessment to be upscaled, with a vague provision that ‘learning outcomes’ have been met within the module or through other modules in the course. This means that a student’s final grade may be based on just 20% of their performance in a module.
- To allow the normal regulations concerning scaling up coursework to be applied with just 50% of coursework completed and marked, instead of the usual requirements of scaling only being an option when two-thirds of coursework has been submitted and marked; in other words, if a student had just 50% of their work marked, it could be scaled up to be 100% of their final mark.
- An unlimited number of ‘modules can be ‘allowed’, an outcome previously put in place to protect students experiencing long-term sickness or other extenuating circumstances where credit is awarded to the module without a mark being given or any work needing to be marked. Presumably 100% coursework dissertations could be ‘allowed’, meaning that months of students’ hard work will go unread.
- Students to be allowed to progress between year groups with no minimum grade average required – meaning that students could fail most of their second year and still progress into third year.
These measures place undue additional workload on colleagues responsible for assessment boards, and moves responsibility away from the senior management team of the institution. They unfairly place decision-making primarily on the chairs of Department Assessment Boards. Decisions about scaling are said to be a matter of ‘academic judgement’, presumably as a means of minimizing the grounds on which students might appeal such decisions.
These measures also raise serious questions about quality control and assurance: how can students and employers be confident in their final degree result? In many cases, these mitigations are nigh-impossible to moderate or for external examiners to certify. Many accreditation bodies also require minimum grade averages for progression, and a completed (and assessed) dissertation project. Without these, the College’s ability to guarantee the quality of its degrees in comparison to sector-wide standards is almost zero.
Upscaling decisions need to be approved by module convenors; for this reason, the branch encourages all members to attend their department assessment boards (DABs) to register their concerns, have those concerns minuted, and potentially to use their DAB vote to veto such decisions.
We recommend that members take the following actions:
- Academic staff should put their concerns about these measures in writing to their line managers and executive deans. We hope to provide a template letter shortly.
- Academic staff in departments with degrees monitored by regulating bodies should report their concerns, using this template letter [link to Word file].
- DAB chairs should make external examiners aware of these mitigation measures.
- Students should write to senior management to express their concerns.
Royal Holloway UCU condemns these poorly thought mitigation strategies in the strongest possible terms. They unfairly impact multiple stakeholders in the university, first and foremost students, but also professional services staff and academic staff with administrative responsibilities for assessment boards. We are also disappointed that the senior leadership would prefer to move such extreme measures instead of simply calling on UCEA to resume negotiations. Indeed, many of these measures go further than those brought in during the pandemic – and there has been little to no consultation about their impact, in contrast to the pandemic regulations.
The branch’s drop-in meeting on Friday 2 June at 1pm has been tailored to be specifically on MAB mitigations and concerns. We will be e-mailing members with a reminder of the Zoom link shortly.
Posted on behalf of the RHUL UCU Branch Committee
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