Policy on fair assessments - Study Abroad

As noted in our recent communication, the most effective way to approach the next few months is for staff and students to continue to work together so we can assess, progress and graduate students in fair and appropriate ways. As noted in the recent Russell Group Universities’ joint statement, we are required to balance two things in every decision we take: the ambition to ensure students are not disadvantaged despite the Covid challenges you have faced, and the imperative to ensure the value of your degree can never be questioned by an employer or professional accrediting body in the future. This is a difficult balancing act under the current circumstances, but staff will be doing everything possible to help you to secure the best possible outcome.

What follows is a package of measures to mitigate for the Covid disruption in 2020-21. This package constitutes the University’s Policy for Fair Assessment and Fair Outcomes for Undergraduate Students for this academic year. Please note, these measures apply specifically to this academic year and if disruption continues into the next academic year, we will need to devise a new package of measures appropriate to the circumstances and to recognise the cumulative impacts. There is separate information available for PGT, and UG students who are not on a Study Abroad programme.

This policy is in three parts: measures and mitigations applying to all undergraduate students, and mitigations specific to graduating cohorts and continuing students. We have consulted with the Guild on this package and we would like to thank them for their input to the decision-making process. We also note the constructive comments made by the joint Russell Group Student Union response and can confirm that our policy supports much of what they have requested.

NB: please remember in your communications with staff that they, like you, are facing personal and professional disruption as a result of the pandemic. Many (like some of you) will be home-schooling. Staff will nonetheless do everything possible to return marks and assessed work as planned. Obviously if there are significant numbers of extensions, this will also have an impact on the time set aside for marking and therefore the return of marks. Schools will communicate with you if there are likely to be any delays but it’s important that we recognise the additional pressures on both students and staff.

Measures and mitigations applying to all undergraduate students

Mitigations applying to Undergraduate Graduating Cohorts (2020-21 only)

Mitigations applying to Continuing Undergraduate Cohorts (2020-21)

1. Measures and mitigations applying to all undergraduate students

  • All assessments here at the University of Birmingham were already designed and scheduled to be taken online in anticipation of the potential for Covid-related disruption. Mitigations are, therefore, already in place in terms of the structure and content of assessments and the forms of/deadlines for submission. These mitigations vary depending on the subject, type of programme and whether there are specific professional body requirements.
  • Given the additional challenges this year, it is confirmed that students are not required to produce external evidence to support their requests for extensions or extenuating circumstances. Instead, students are asked to provide sufficient information about their circumstances in order to self-certify the request they are making. This allows us to consider each case at Exam Boards.
  • For any students who are expecting to take a major project or dissertation that would normally require lab access or in-person data collection, Covid-adapted project pathways have already been put in place where required to ensure you can still complete an appropriate project and graduate successfully.
  • Although the Government is seeking to dramatically reduce the number of people on campus, they have made an exemption for students who need access to study spaces, WiFi or specialist equipment in order to complete assessments. NB: as noted in the first comms last week, it is essential this exemption is reserved for those students who really need it because if students are on campus unnecessarily, this exemption is likely to come under pressure. You can read the latest Government guidance here.
  • Regular (usually weekly) online group tutorials were introduced for all taught students for the first time this academic year in anticipation of further Covid disruption. The aim was to ensure each student had quick and regular access to a tutor and a small group of peers. This is a forum in which you can discuss any concerns you might have and these will then be raised with your Department or School.
  • Your Student Reps continue to work closely with your Schools and Departments to ensure that any issues raised are addressed and you should ensure that you know your local Reps. Remember, your Reps are also able to escalate issues to the Guild who have a remit to work with the University on your behalf. In addition, we introduced wider Student Reference Groups in Schools and Departments to help us to work collaboratively in navigating the challenges we are all facing this year.

In addition to these general measures, there are specific mitigations that apply to different cohorts of students.

2. Mitigations applying to Undergraduate Graduating Cohorts (2020-21 only)

Graduating cohorts this year are in a different position to those of last year. In particular, whereas last year’s students had a full set of first and second year marks (and third year marks for those on a 4 year degree) this cohort has marks missing from the second year profile of students on 3 year degrees and the third year profile of students on 4 year degrees. This makes it essential that final year marks are available to support fair decisions about graduation and degree classification. As long as work is submitted and marks are accrued, we have a number of mitigations to be used in the summer 2021 examination boards.

Mitigations already in place for the final examination boards in the summer:

  • The total marks profile of each individual student will be considered. This mitigation was introduced last year. Under normal circumstances this is only required in borderline cases or EC considerations. NB: As was the case last year, we must be able to demonstrate that each student has met their programme learning outcomes and gained any core competencies required for professional accreditation.
  • If it adds positive information about a student, we will consider first year marks as part of the overall picture of a student’s potential. We cannot retrospectively add the first year marks into the degree classification algorithm because that would be unfair to students, but we can consider them in a positive way as evidence of potential or the impact of disruption.
  • In a three year degree (including those with a semester abroad in the second year in 2019/20), second year marks are usually worth 25% of a final degree classification but for this year’s graduating cohort the second year marks (i.e. for 2019/20) will only be counted towards the degree classification if they confirm or improve a student’s classification.
  • Note: where this mitigation is invoked and to ensure it is fair to all students,   the full 25% can be counted if students have marks for at least 60 credits from second year (2019-20) based on completed modules and partial credits for incomplete modules. For students with <60 credits, their formal progression mark from second year (2019-20) will be weighted at 12.5% of their overall mark for degree classification. Students who have <20 credits from their second year (2019/20) will have received a formal progression mark, and although it can’t be used  to influence the final degree classification because it would have undue weight compared to other students, it can be used in a positive way as evidence of potential or the impact of disruption.  
    • In a four year degree,  the marks for the credits achieved in the 3rd year (i.e. study abroad in 2019-20) will be used to calculate an overall mark for the degree classification based on Stage 2 (i.e. years 2 and 3) counting, as normal, 25% of the overall mark (Stage 3 counts 75%). However, the marks for year 3 (study abroad) will only be used if they improve the overall mark for degree classification; if not, Stage 2 will be based on year 2 only and  will count 25%, and the final year marks will count 75% of the overall mark.   (Note that depending on the programme, either year 2 normally contributes 18.75% and the year abroad normally contributes 6.25% to stage 2, or year 2 and the year abroad each  contribute 12.5% to stage 2). The credits from the Year Abroad (i.e. 2019-2020) will be based on completed modules and partial credits for incomplete modules. If students have fewer than 20 credits’ worth of marks (i.e. fewer than 7.5 ECTS or equivalent) the Year Abroad mark will not be used, and in this case Stage 2 will be based on Year 2 only and will count 25%. Note: we will look at the overall performance and transcript of marks at Exam Boards and take the most positive view for each student.
    • For a LANS BA/BSc degree, the marks for credits achieved at stage 2 (years 2 and 3) by 2019-20, and the module portfolio will be reviewed for each (anonymised) student. This will contribute to the calculation of  25% of the degree mark. The 4th year (2020-21) will contribute 75% (as normal) to the final degree classification). Where evidence is found of a negative impact from 3rd year marks contributing to Stage 2 for students graduating in 2021, whose Year of Study Abroad or in Business may have been disrupted, the stage 2 marks will not be counted. 3rd year marks will only be counted towards the degree classification if they confirm or improve a student’s classification.

The impact of extenuating circumstances (ECs) will be considered as usual at Exam Boards but note whereas students are required to submit their reasons for requesting ECs and extensions as usual, we have put in place a process of self-certification so external supporting evidence is not required.

NOTE: If students wish to request a deferral of any assessments, they are also required to submit their reasons. Deferred assessments will be scheduled for the Supplementary Period in August and they will normally take the same format as the original assessments. 

New mitigations for 2020-21

  • For individual students: we will extend the zone of discretion for each degree classification boundary to ensure that more students are automatically considered for an uplift. For example, currently, all students who achieve an overall mark of 68 or 69 are considered for a first class degree. We will extend this range to include students with a mark of 67. This mitigation applies to the boundaries in all degree classifications (57-59 for a 2.1; 47-49 for a 2.2; 37-39 for a 3rd).
  • As is usual in such cases, in order to qualify for the uplift in degree classification, students will need to have at least 50% (60 credits) of their modules in the final year in the higher classification. This means the following:
  • For graduating cohorts on a 3 year degree (BSc, BA, BEng), in order to profile up to a first class degree, at least 60 credits (50% of the module marks) in the final year must normally be in the 1st class category and, of the remainder, at least 40 credits must be in the 2.1 category.
  • For graduating cohorts on a 4 year degree (i.e. degrees with a year abroad) in order to profile up to a first class degree, at least 60 credits (50% of the module marks) in the final year  must normally be in the 1st class category and, of the remainder, at least 40 credits must be in the 2.1 category.

There might be situations in which a student has an overall mark of <70%, but is not awarded a 1st class degree because the above criteria are not fulfilled. In such cases, if the Board of Examiners decides that a student with <70% should be awarded a 1st Class Honours, based on the full profile of marks across all years of study, an award can be made ‘Notwithstanding Regulations’ as long as the External Examiner is supportive.

  • For the whole cohort: We will compare the marks achieved by this year’s graduating cohort with that of last year’s cohort to ensure you are not disadvantaged. If we find a variation beyond the normal variation between years, we are able to scale marks accordingly at the summer exam boards. In order to do this we would need the support of our External Examiners and in each programme we have to be certain we are in alignment with the requirements of individual professional bodies.

3. Mitigations applying to Continuing Undergraduate Cohorts (2020-21)

Continuing students are in different positions depending on their year of study, although all the general mitigations in Section 1 of this document do apply. For example, current year 2/3 students are likely to have different numbers of marks available from their previous year of study depending on the timing of assessments in relation to the first lockdown.

Many current 1st year students will have missed taking their A levels (or equivalent) so although year 1 marks don’t count towards your final degree classification, these assessments are particularly important in helping you to understand the requirements of degree level study and for developing your academic skillset and expertise in the application and communication of your learning. This will support you to enter your second year of study.

For all continuing students, the main advice is to submit as many assessments as possible. We cannot know at this moment whether next year will be further disrupted, or whether we will be required to make further adjustments and mitigations as you approach graduation in the future. It’s important, therefore, that as many students as possible are able to build profiles of marks over time so we are able to consider them for progression and eventually graduation. This will ensure we are able to deliver fair outcomes for all students.

Currently we are working on the basis that continuing UG students will progress to the next year of study based on the usual requirement for 100 credits passed; however, it is clear that students currently who undertake a semester abroad or a year abroad this year may not have achieved this threshold.  In order to ensure students are not disadvantaged, this will be reviewed after the summer Exam Boards when results are compared with performance of the cohort in previous (non-Covid) years.

NOTE: we will issue any further guidance required on the operation of the summer boards in April 2021. Our priority will be to organise the extended boards for graduating cohorts in the first instance and, of course, this will also benefit you in the future when you are in a graduating cohort.

For students who are currently on a year abroad (i.e. year 3 of a 4 year degree) or undertaking a semester abroad (i.e. in year 2 of a 3 year degree), the following will apply, given that students are having, or will have had, different experiences this year.

Semester 2 information
   Semester 1  Semester 2  Actions
 1 Attendance on study abroad  – marks produced. Attendance on study abroad – marks produced. Proceed as normal using all marks achieved as normal.
 2 Attendance on study abroad – no marks. Attendance on study abroad  – marks produced. Use marks for Semester only 2  
 3 Attendance on study abroad  – no marks. Attendance on study abroad – no marks. Use Year 2 marks to constitute 25% of the overall final degree classification mark.
 4 Attendance on study abroad – marks produced. Special UoB provision for students who cannot attend study abroad.  Proceed as normal, using marks obtained from study abroad and mark scheme for UoB special provision.
 5 Attendance on study abroad – no marks. Special UoB provision for students who cannot attend study abroad  Use marks for Semester  2 only.
 6 Special UoB provision for students who cannot attend study abroad.  Special UoB provision for students who cannot attend study abroad. Proceed as normal, using marks for UoB special provision.

Note: For those students on their year abroad as part of a LANS degree, scenarios 1, 4 or 6 will apply, with these marks going forward, with their year 2 marks to contribute to their stage 2 or MSci/MArts portfolio.



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