Leacsaidh Macdonald Marlow
As of September 2023, the University of Nottingham has implemented a significant change to its Extenuating Circumstances (EC) policy, which has caused some confusion and upset among students. Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow explores the details of the policy changes which will affect all students at the university this year, as well as discussing student opinions regarding the alterations.
The extenuating circumstances policy is in place to help students with long-term disabilities or mental health conditions, or those who suffer from acute illnesses, bereavement, etc, which might impinge their performance on any form of assessment. EC claims can be submitted both for assessed coursework and examinations, with the procedure for each being slightly different. Where previously one could submit an EC claim and, if successful, be granted an option at a re-sit or a ‘first sit’ for their exam, if a student has their EC claim upheld this year, then their re-sit/first sit will be mandatory. Not only will the student not have a choice whether they accept the option of a re-sit, but their initial exam result will automatically be voided, or not marked at all, and if the student fails to attend their re-sit examination, a score of zero will be awarded. With regards to coursework assessments, the maximum extension which can now be granted without the student providing evidence is 5 days (with a maximum of two of these extensions granted per student per academic year), and the maximum extension period if the evidence is provided will be 15 working days, regardless of whether this is for an essay or a dissertation.
The University’s aim in changing the EC policy is essentially to level the playing field between students. It is hoped that the changes will reduce the number of students submitting false or unnecessary claims or receiving longer extensions than necessary. Furthermore, a cap on the extension period for assessed coursework should prevent any subsequent overlapping of deadlines that counterproductively affects a student’s stress levels or ability to study negatively.
the policy change “is a reasonable approach for an institution to make” concerning ensuring EC claims are handled professionally and fairly
Through an informal survey taken by a group of second-year University of Nottingham students, one student stated that, on this basis, the policy change “is a reasonable approach for an institution to make” concerning ensuring EC claims are handled professionally and fairly.
Since the implementation in September, some students received information about these changes when they began their studies in early October, but many were not formally made aware until the end of that month, with some academic schools only sending emails informing their students of the changes in the final week of October, and some still not having been officially notified. Because of this, a large majority of students were until recently, or remain, completely unaware of the large differences in the policy this year, and thus unaware of how it will affect them during their studies.
As a result of a general lack of knowledge about the alterations to the EC policy, students’ opinions on it have been mixed, especially with first-year students being, for the most part, unaware of what the regulations and procedures were before their enrolment.
It is, however, unequivocal that most students who are affected by this policy are not largely pleased with the changes that have been made.
71.4% of participants said that they were less likely to make an EC claim in light of the alterations
When filling out the informal survey, one student claimed that the changes are “completely unfair” since “EC claims are meant to give students confidence that they will be able to do their best despite what they are going through. To nullify previous achievement and put all the pressure on the one exam on a single date just a different one is only moving the problem with the exam back not making it better.”. Another argues that “while compulsory re-sits/’first sits’ may well be the right approach for some students, the issue with the sweeping policy is that the university is not “[taking] consideration when deciding suitable strategies to help students”. Moreover, in a small survey of second-year UoN students, 71.4% of participants said that they were less likely to make an EC claim in light of the alterations.
With re-sits/’first sits’ being mandatory if granted, some students suggested during the informal survey, that they are worried about the financial or emotional stress that this may place on them, with some citing this as a reason for being less likely to submit an EC claim in future, even if they felt they needed the support; “If this new policy had been in place, I simply would not have submitted an EC”.
During this survey, one second year Medicine student spoke about their experiences submitting an EC claim due to an injury that impacted their studying last year, intimating their worries about not being deserving of the “accommodation”, and explaining how they would have struggled if this policy had been in place last summer:
“I studied hard to do acceptably in those exams despite my problems and the only difference this policy change would have made is that I would have been more stressed because even if I passed, I would have to repeat the exams later. As such I would attempt to avoid that stress by not filing an EC and just hoping I don’t do too much than I am capable of in good health. My issue would have likely made me do worse in the exams, but I was probably still fit to sit them. I would not have dared suggest that I was completely unfit for exams when I imagine other people have far bigger problems and so I would have just accepted doing worse in the exams and not filing an EC.”
“I dislike seeing people I know struggle and refuse to get help”
The student goes on to stress that they hope to never need to submit an EC claim again as the prospect of a mandatory re-sit in the summer is not worth the support provided and worries that this change to the policy will result in others not applying for extenuating circumstances support when they need it; “I dislike seeing people I know struggle and refuse to get help”.
As the policy could affect any student at any time, due to acute illness/injury, bereavement, or other unforeseen circumstances, it is important that all UoN students are aware of the change and the procedure, should they ever need to submit a claim.
Information about the EC regulations, procedures, and policy alterations can be found here:
Leacsaidh Macdonald Marlow
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