The campaign for third level institutions to adopt a ‘No-Detriment’ policy has gained a significant amount of political attention over the last week as universities begin to make clear decisions on the issue. Many parties such as Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats support the policy on a party-wide level whereas Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue to dodge the question towards the relevant department with only few TDs from these parties out-rightly supporting the issue. The majority of Independents, however, seem to support the policy in some shape or form. People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett has also announced his support for the policy.

Thousands of students nationwide have called for academic leniency, claiming some may face disadvantages amid the current health crisis. The No-Detriment policy takes into account students’ circumstances and allows them to only improve their GPA once their exams are passed. An online petition calling for the policy to be introduced in UCD has received over 6,400 signatures.

Sinn Féin, the Green Party, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats are definite supporters of the policy and are using their political influence lobby for students. A number of TDs from these parties have released statements as well as going as far as to contact universities on the issue. Alan Kelly (TD), leader of Labour, has said “our party is fully supportive of this and will continue to fight the case” while Green Party TDs and councilors insist that Education Spokesperson Catherine Martin (TD) is doing her best to communicate with the Department of Education to achieve a favored result.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are taking very different approaches to their more left-wing counterparts. A large number of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs contacted over the issue have come back with the generic party stance, passing responsibility over to the Department of Education or universities themselves. Michael Martin’s office has said that “ultimately it is universities who must uphold the quality of their qualifications” while Jennifer Carroll Mac Neill (TD) for Fine Gael said “I have brought this to the attention of the Department of Education and Skills”. Several TDs from these parties worry of unfair bias being cast against 2020 graduates if their exam results are deemed to be unrealistic or wrongly graded.

However, not all TDs from these parties share the same generic view. John Lahart, Fianna Fáil TD, has gone as far as to sign a petition and has written directly to presidents and provosts of various higher education institutes. Norma Foley, who is a Fianna Fáil TD from Kerry, has stated “I am fully supportive of the campaign for the introduction of a ‘No Detriment’ policy across our third level institutions”. Online traction continues across the country for the implementation of this policy and the political support is welcomed by the students.

A working group has been established in UCD to negotiate the implementation of policies which take into account students’ potential difficulties in completing end of year assessments online. Students’ Union President Joanna Siewierska and Education Officer Brian Treacy are part of the working group. Siewierska has said that “there’s a couple of student scenarios where the No-Detriment policy wouldn’t necessarily be the best for them.” She expanded by saying the Working Group will return specific policies that are more appropriately tailored to various UCD courses and unique student situations. A blanket university policy seems unlikely to be introduced following the findings of the working group, but according to Siewierska, a number of new rules may be more appropriate.

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) students received an email yesterday outlining a number of mitigating measures being introduced to assist students. Written by the Dean of Undergraduate Studies and the Vice-Provost, the email argues the faults of the policy within an Irish context: “This precise mechanism will not work in our system, as students do not have a running grade point average.”

In a statement yesterday Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor announced a number of new changes in response to the current government health restrictions. She declared that further and higher education institutions will not be holding written, oral or practical assessments in examination centres during the COVID-19 health crisis. She also thanked higher education institutions for implementing alternative examination arrangements, going on to announce that students will not be penalised if they are unable to participate in the alternative assessments.

The Minister did not, however, acknowledge the mounting appeals from thousands of students nationwide to adopt a ‘No-Detriment’ policy for the remainder of the year, calling for academic leniency amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Other Irish universities have also seen a huge interest in the ‘No-Detriment’ policy, with online petitions gaining just under 6,000 for University College Cork (UCC), Trinity have reached over 4,200 signatures and Dublin City University have managed 3,200.

The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have announced measures today closely reflect student demands, with NCAD introducing a “Safety-Net” policy which has successfully been introduced in a number of UK universities.

The university has yet to respond to requests for comment on widespread calls for a “No-Detriment” policy in UCD.

More to follow…


Adam O’Sullivan – Reporter