Update for finalists 020420

Important message for UG and PGT Finalists about the Summer Exam and Assessment Period 

We emailed you two weeks ago with an overview of the work we were doing to develop an appropriate approach to the forthcoming summer ‘exam’ assessment period. At that point, we were still in the early stages of testing the many possibilities and also consulting with professional bodies and other similar universities. That work has continued at pace over the last two weeks and we are now able to share our Emergency Assessment Framework for final year students (UG and PGT) who are due to graduate in 2020.

We know that these are unprecedented times and that this crisis has disrupted plans for revision and assessments, and made it difficult to concentrate. This is why our approach has been designed to ensure ‘no detriment’ and also ‘reduced pressure’ for you. Your wellbeing is our priority and we want you to be able to prioritise this too.

Please Note: In order to be certain that we are being fair to every student, we are currently mapping the profile of every individual final year student against the principles and the framework set out below. This is a complex process but we have to get it right. Although we have included flow diagrams with this communication to give you a visual explanation of the approach we are taking, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ATTEMPT TO WORK OUT YOUR OWN STATUS. Instead, your programme teams are doing that for you and will be making every attempt to contact you about your individual status by Wednesday 8 April.

 The four principles guiding our approach are as follows:

  • No detriment: we will ensure that as many students as possible are able to complete their degree on time, with a classification that is a fair reflection of their achievements. We will be taking into account their best marks from all coursework successfully completed and that which is to be submitted and successfully completed.
  • Reduced pressure: for many final year students, once they have successfully completed all outstanding coursework and the dissertation, and taking into account marks from previous year(s), we will have sufficient evidence that they have met our emergency threshold. We will, therefore, reduce the overall credit requirements needed to complete the degree, to reduce to a minimum the number of online assessments (to replace exams) that are required by a student. We anticipate that in many cases this will be no more than one or two inclusive assessments, and for many it will be none.
  • Inclusive assessments: where additional online assessments (to replace exams) are required, we will design them to be both flexible and inclusive (i.e. in the form of ‘open-book’ coursework that looks similar in format to an exam you were expecting or short tests with multiple windows for completion) to ensure they can be accessed and completed successfully by as many students as possible. We will also be setting extended time periods for completion to reflect the different needs of different students (RAPs, time zones etc.).
  • Academic Integrity: we have set a requirement that in order to graduate, we must have evidence that students have met the new emergency minimum credits (details below) in the final year (or taught credits for PGT), satisfied any professional body requirements, and met the Learning Outcomes for their Programme. Online inclusive assessments will only be set for students where they are missing any of those three critical elements, and in all cases we will keep this to the minimum needed (as noted above) to ensure the integrity of their degrees.

In our approach, we have attempted to take into account every possible challenge a student might face, although we recognise that some are simply out of our control. Programme teams will work with these individual cases in the coming weeks and months to find the best ways forward, and we will design all the inclusive online assessments to be as accessible as possible. Students can continue to seek short deadline extensions and make claims for Extenuating Circumstances in the normal way through their School or College process. We will be flexible and understanding in considering these requests and there is more information on our webpages and on our FAQs.

It is also important to note that, as we write this, we have no idea when campus will reopen, or when it might be possible to reschedule on-campus exams. It is highly likely, for example, that the resit period that usually takes place in August will also have to be delivered online.

Please read below for the specific detail of the approach including the option to defer your exams or repeat your final year.

To help you we have created flow charts you can view here to help you understand the way this will work:

We have also developed a number of FAQs that are specific to this process and this message which are available on our Your Studies page.

The University of Birmingham Assessment Framework for UG/PGT Finalists

Under Emergency Regulations for the Graduating Cohort 2020.

NOTE: There are some important adaptations to this framework for those programmes that have external professional accreditation. In all programmes, we are adhering to our four principles outlined above.

1. Summary

Our approach has been designed to ensure ‘no detriment’ and also ‘reduced pressure’. As long as we have evidence that students have met their overall Programme Learning Outcomes (including professional requirements) we will allow UG students to take forward their best 80 credits of final year marks (must include marks from the project/dissertation) to degree classification, and PGT students to take forward their best 80 credits of taught modules (plus the 60 credit project/dissertation).

This dramatically reduces the number of online assessments that are required to be successfully completedin the summer exam period as part of our intention that students are not academically disadvantaged by the current crisis.  NB: Students’ degree transcripts will reflect all modules studied, even where not all modules have been assessed formally. This is important for many professional programmes.

In order to reduce pressure, we want to ‘count’ as much existing work/marks as possible to reach the thresholds described above (and see below for more detail). In determining how many credits a student has accumulated, for most programmes we will accept partial modules. This means that where a student has passed part - but not all - of the assessment components of a module, that will count as a pro rata of the overall module credit value. For example, a student who has completed a piece of work worth 50% of a 20 credit module can therefore be said to have completed 10 credits to count towards the minimum credits threshold. This is notwithstanding the additional requirement to have met all of the Programme Learning Outcomes.

2. Approach for UG/Integrated Masters Students

Each UG/Integrated Masters final year student will be required to have (in addition to their marks from previous years) marks for at least the equivalent of 80 credits from the final year of their programme including the dissertation/project, and sufficient evidence that they have met the overall Programme Learning Outcomes. (Note: the normal requirement is 120 credits for each year of study).

3. Approach for PGT Students

For PGT Degree students to progress, we will require marks for at least the equivalent of 80 credits from the taught component of their programme so they can progress to the project/dissertation and focus on that over the summer period (to secure an additional 60 credits). (Note: the normal requirement is for 180 credits overall, made up in the majority of programmes by 120 taught credits and 60 credits project/dissertation).

For PG Diploma students, we will require marks for at least the equivalent of 80 credits out of the 120 credits of taught modules. For PG Certificate students, we will require marks for at least 40 credits out of the 60 credits of taught modules.

Taking into Account Individual Programmes and Individual Students:

The emergency provisions will need to be contextualised for each programme and, to some extent, for each student to take into account the different module options available and varying assessment patterns for each module. We will, however, adhere to our four principles and the framework will be applied fairly to all students.

In those cases where students already have more than 80 credits available (including the project/dissertation for UG programmes; for PGT programmes this would be taught credits), we will always take the project/dissertation credits plus the best of the remaining credits to make up the total required (80 credits in total for UG programmes and 140 credits in total for PGT programmes) to ensure these students are not disadvantaged.

For PG Diploma students, where students already have more than 80 credits of marks, we will take the best equivalent of 80 credits worth of marks from all that are available. For Postgraduate Certificate students, where students already have more than 40 credits of marks, we will take the best equivalent of 40 credits worth of marks from all that are available. If students subsequently fail some of the assessments that they have submitted but have not yet been marked, and they then fall below the emergency threshold we have set, they will have the usual opportunity to resit in August (online). We will keep this requirement to an absolute minimum.  

5. How does our approach compare to that taken by other Universities?

As noted in our original email, all universities have different degree algorithms, teaching patterns and assessment weightings meaning that we can’t all do exactly the same things. For example, in some universities, they already have final year semester one marks available for all students, whereas we have some students with very few final year marks available until (under normal circumstances) the summer exams have been taken. Nonetheless, we have examined the policies of other universities and we are confident that the approach we are taking is considerate, appropriate and fair.

We have gone further than some other universities in seeking to reduce pressure on students, and we have also maintained the integrity of a Birmingham degree and enabled the majority of students to complete their degree on time. The mapping of every individual student profile is an essential step in delivering our Framework, hence the additional time required to communicate the individual status of each student

 6. What can you do if you would prefer to take your original exams at another time?

If you would prefer to retake your final year, or defer the examinations, you can of course do that. If you elect to repeat your final year, would also need to repeat all the coursework too. If you elect to defer your examinations, it’s important to reiterate that we currently have no indication of when campuses will be allowed to reopen (fully or partially) or when the next academic year will start.

We had hoped that the summer 2020 resit period might offer an opportunity to schedule on-campus exams, but this now seems unlikely, so we will have to offer online inclusive assessments in that period too. Moreover, once campus does reopen, we will be required to run a teaching timetable rather than an examination timetable, so it seems unlikely that examination deferrals could be scheduled in the autumn term.

Given this uncertainty, and the no detriment and reduced pressure approach we are taking under our emergency regulations (see the four principles identified earlier), we have made every attempt to ensure that graduating under these emergency regulations will be the most advantageous option for most students given the challenges of the context. 

Next steps

Your Schools/Departments may follow up this email with a local communication relevant to your particular programmes if they have anything specific to add to this communication, and you will all receive a further communication next week detailing your individual status which will be one of the following three outcomes:

(a) you have sufficient credits available to meet the emergency minimum threshold as detailed above and you have met the programme learning outcomes so you don’t need to do any further assessments in the summer period

(b) you don’t have sufficient credits available to meet the emergency minimum threshold as detailed above and/or you have not met one or more elements of the programme learning outcomes, so you will be required to successfully complete a minimal number of inclusive assessments in the summer exam period

(c) we don’t yet have all the information we need about your status but will be in contact as soon as possible. 

Meanwhile, if all students could avoid emailing staff with individual requests at this time, we will get answers to everyone much more quickly.

For those students whose status means they are required to do some online assessment to meet the emergency threshold for graduation, your Schools/Departments will be communicating with you after Easter (by the Wednesday 22 April at the latest) to explain further details. It is important to reassure everyone that these assessments will be designed to be accessible, familiar (in terms of style/content) and will offer you the best opportunity to succeed in the circumstances in which you are working.

We are working hard to get this right for each student. The setting and submission of online assessments will be through Canvas (using normal coursework procedures) and the deadlines will be set locally to reflect the nature of the assessment (i.e. ensuring they are inclusive).       

As noted in our last email, we are still attempting to operate in a very fluid situation. We are very conscious that, in the UK at least, the peak of the Coronavirus crisis is likely to hit us over the next few weeks. This will put additional pressure on staff as well as students, so we all need to be mindful of those pressures as we work our way together through this difficult period.  

With Best Wishes from:

Prof Kathy Armour (PVC Education)

Dr Emma Robinson (Interim Academic Registrar)

Prof Jon Green (DPVC Education)

Dr Celia Greenway (DPVC Student Academic Engagement)

Dr John Curnow (DoE MDS)

Prof Elaine Fulton (DoE CAL)

Prof Catherine Mangan (DoE CoSS)

Prof Jeremy Pritchard (DoE LES)

Prof Nicola Wilkin (DoE EPS)

Dr Andy Hodder (PGT Lead, Graduate School).


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