Friday 3 April 2020

Undergraduate student email

Introduction of UG safety net score

Dear undergraduate student

I hope you are keeping well and safe.This email outlines important information regarding assessments and our plan for introducing a ‘safety net’ for undergraduate students. There is a lot to cover and I apologise for the length of this email, but please take the time to read this information carefully and review the supplementary information we have added to the Covid-19 pages.

We are doing our best to adapt our usual ways of working to recognise how extraordinary the times are and to support all students.For example, first year assessments have been cancelled, and the format of online assessments and exceptional circumstances policy have been adapted to help you in these difficult circumstances. We have also been thinking hard about how we need to adapt the way we recognise student ability in their degree award class and transcript.

I know for many of you this has been a stressful time and you have been anxious to learn more about how you will undertake your studies given the disruption to your lives and the need to move all provision online. I would like to thank you all for your patience and understanding in allowing us the time and space to work through the different options and to come back to you with what we feel to be the best and most workable solutions for your studies going forward in these uncertain times.

Our aims

In developing our new approach to teaching, learning, assessment and progression, our aim is to achieve the following:

  • Our students should have the opportunity to complete their studies to the end of the academic year
  • Our students should have the best opportunity we can provide in the circumstances to achieve the highest and fairest marks that represent their true capabilities
  • Where possible, students should be able to ‘bank’ a fair summary of their level of success from the period before this disruption.
  • Students who can improve their performance towards the end of the year should still have the opportunity to do so
  • Students deserve their end of year marks and degree classifications to be meaningful and comparable to other degrees awarded before and after this period
  • Students on accredited programmes must be able to meet the professional requirements of their accrediting body

Teaching, learning and assessments

I wrote to you last week to confirm all teaching will be moving to online provision and how this will work. I also explained that we are moving to different methods of online assessment and that we expect assessments will change in one of the following ways:

  • A coursework alternative where some exams will be replaced by an open assessment with at least one month between students receiving the assessment specification and the submission date.
  • An open exam alternative where the exam is replaced with an online exam that is available for 24 hours. There may be a small number of exams where there will be different durations or other special features.
  • Changes to other types of assessments
  • In a limited number of cases the assessment may be waived.

More detailed information can be found on the Covid-19 pages.

Introduction of the ‘safety net’

Many of you have written to me, and there has been a lot of discussion in the last few days, about the University offering a ‘safety net’ for students. The safety net is a way of guaranteeing in advance what the lowest your final academic-year average will be, provided you qualify to pass the year.

The safety net takes into account what you have achieved in work submitted up to the 13 March 2020. We then put a peg in place that says given what we know so far this is the ‘safety net score’. You will get to know what this score is prior to the summer assessments and, provided you qualify to pass the year, your academic-year average will not be lower. This will apply to undergraduate students who are in second year or above at this point including integrated masters students, but not including HYMS MBBS students.

It is important to understand that this safety net score does not mean you can stop your studies or opt out of summer assessments. The safety net can only be used by students who meet the requirements to progress to the next year or, in final year, to be awarded their degree. This means you still have to pass your modules to progress (by earning a mark of 40 or above or having modules compensated) and, in most cases, that means you still need to complete your summer term assessments. In any case, we expect all students to continue with their studies until the end of the academic year 2019/20.

Integrated masters students will only have to meet the requirements to progress to the next year of the Bachelor’s degree.

Some students whose degrees are externally accredited, or overseen by Professional Standards Bodies may not be eligible to use a safety net score because of the nature of their qualification. This won’t be the case for most students but may affect those working to get a degree that gives them a professional title of some kind. We are working with these bodies to determine what they will allow: if you are on one of these programmes, your department will be in touch about what this means for you once we know for sure. These details may take some time to determine. So please be patient if you are in this position-- it’s important to all of us that you can have your degrees accredited.

Following the summer term assessments we will apply the rules as normal to calculate your average for the year. If your assessment score takes your mark up higher than your safety net score, then this higher score becomes your new overall score. If, however, the results of your summer assessments would take your mark down below your given safety net score, then we will use your safety net score. In short, we will take whichever overall score is the higher- your end of year score or your safety net score.

Please note: The safety net score does not prevent you from being able to apply for exceptional circumstances. We understand this situation is impacting everyone differently, and that for some students it may not be possible properly to engage with their study or assessment at some points in the coming months. If this is the case for you, please see the information on exceptional circumstances.

Calculation of the safety-net score

The principle we will apply to the calculation of the safety net is that if you have completed 60 credits “worth” of assessments, or more, prior to 13 March 2020, in the current academic year, then the average mark for these assessments is your safety net. If you do not have 60 credits worth of marks available, we will make up the “missing” credits using your previous year’s mark. In this way, we will always have at least 60 credits of assessments on which to base your safety net score. This is the minimum number of credits that we can use to be sure that we’re accurately reflecting your achievements.

In more detail, the calculation will be done in the following steps, for each student:

  1. We will work out the credit value of all the assessments in the 2019/20 academic year with submission dates before 13 March 2020. This will be done for all individual completed assessments, regardless of whether or not there are other assessments for a module that have not been completed. This will take into account both the number of credits for the module and the percentage contribution of each assessment to the module.
  2. We will calculate a total, credit-weighted, average of all those assessments in step 1.
  3. If the total credit value of the assessments (step 1) is 60 credits or more, then the credit-weighted average of those assessments (step 2) will be the safety net. If this is not the case, then see step 4.
  4. If the total credit value of the assessments in the current academic year (step 1) is less than 60 credits, then the missing credits (i.e. to make up 60) will be assigned a score of the year-average for the previous academic year for which there are numerical marks available. The average across the full 60 credits then forms the safety net score.

For some second-year students, this will mean using an average of their first year marks. We’ll only be using first year marks to fill in the ‘gap’ in available second year marks. We’re doing this because deciding on a whole year’s average based on a tiny amount of assessed work (say, a student who has only done one in-class presentation, or had a series of problem papers that they didn’t take that seriously because they didn’t “count” for much) would mean wildly unpredictable and unfair results.

Similarly, for some third year students, the ‘gap’ will be filled with their second year average, and for fourth year (integrated masters) students, the ‘gap’ will be filled with their third year average.

A worked through example can be found on the Covid-19 pages. You can also use this estimator to give you an approximation of your safety score. Please be aware that the score generated is only as accurate as the information you can provide and should be taken as an indication of your likely safety net score, not a certainty.

We have looked at what other universities have proposed, we have considered what will work best for York and we have endeavoured to develop a well thought through solution that can work for all our undergraduate students. We are determined to focus on an approach that means that none of our students are disadvantaged by circumstances beyond their control, and everyone is rewarded for the hard work and achievements made throughout the full length of their studies. At the same time we want to maintain an appropriate and approved level of academic integrity to ensure the validity and value of the degree or award achieved. There is a delicate balance to be maintained.

I understand that the concept of the safety net is quite complex and I hope I have explained this in a way that reassures you we are doing our very best to balance allowing you to show what you are capable of, and protecting the long-term value of your degree classification. If you have any questions or are unsure how this might affect you please contact your department in the first instance. But please understand that as things are moving fast, departments too are just beginning to consider what this means, so replies may take a little while for individual students.

The Students’ Union is also working hard to help students during this time. There is a YUSU Covid 19 Community Facebook page, for students to link up and swap tips, events, activities and ideas for dealing with the challenges we are all facing. In addition, the YUSU Advice & Support Centre (ASC) are available via email.

Please also remember we are here to offer you support for your wellbeing. You can access the Student Hub, Open Door, and your College teams online. The maths and writing skills centres are also there to support you with your academic needs.

Please keep checking your University email and the Covid-19 webpages for news and updates. In the meantime please keep yourselves safe, and keep reaching out to us and each other.

Kind regards

John Robinson

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students

Supported and endorsed by:

Samara Jones, YUSU President

Giang Nguyen, YUSU Academic Officer