Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has announced 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. The policy takes into account students’ circumstances and allows them to only improve their GPA once their exams are passed.

Conor Nolan, founder of the ‘UCD No Detriment Policy’ Facebook group which has garnered over 4,200 members in under six days, and would-be leader of the student movement, says the Minister’s statements “fail to acknowledge the true extent of the issues and struggles students are currently faced with in this pandemic.” An online petition calling for the policy to be introduced in UCD has received over 6,200 signatures.

UCD has already implemented measures to ensure learning and assessment will continue online where possible. UCD students have been learning digitally since March 23rd through online learning system ‘Brightspace’. Lectures are being broadcasted live via ‘Zoom’ as well as being uploaded as podcasts for students.

In her statement, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “University and college students need clarity on exams and assessments, particularly those in final year, and I would now like to thank all the universities, colleges and institutes of further education that have worked tirelessly over the past number of weeks to ensure alternative arrangements have been put in place.” She continued to assure students that “qualifications achieved this year will be valued and regarded exactly as in any other year,” and asked that institutions focus on students about to graduate.

A new guidance document has been published by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), outlining: No written, oral or practical assessments in higher or further education will be physically held in an examination or test centre until the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, alternative arrangements for assessment will be made where at all possible, including online exams or rescheduling, and students who are not able to participate in alternative assessment arrangements will not be penalised. They will have opportunities to complete their studies at a later point in time.

QQI also urges institutions to be aware of the particular needs of students who are more vulnerable; those who contract Covid-19 or are caring for others; students from overseas; work-based learners; broadband access; students with disabilities or those with mental health issues.

Nolan continued with his criticism of the Minister’s comments, admitting that although the “minister of state, universities and other institutions are doing their best to ensure that the value of our qualifications are not undermined by the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak,” these measures may not be enough. “There has appeared to be a lack of cooperation and partnership between universities and student representative bodies and I feel as we move towards organising alternative means of assessment and the finer details of this, we will need student representation to ensure that the needs of those students most struggling are well represented and well understood.”

In an email on Monday, UCD’s Deputy President Mark Rogers outlined a list of new measures and highlighted supports for students but failed to address student calls for a No-Detriment policy, sparking anger from the student body online.

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

More to follow…


Conor Capplis – Editor