Chapter 6 - No Disadvantage Guarantee Policy - 2020/21 academic year only


  1. No Disadvantage Guarantee Policy
    1. Introduction
      1. In exceptional years, confirmed as such by the Academic Dean for Students, it may be necessary to alter the way in which student attainment is calculated in order that marks may better reflect student achievement, independent of the exceptional circumstances that may have been experienced. The University has put into place additional measures to protect academic outcomes in the 2020/21 academic year, known as the No-Disadvantage Guarantee.
      2. This policy was developed under the leadership of the DVC Education and Academic Dean for Students in consultation with the Students’ Guild, Students’ Union and student representatives, and provides advice and guidance for staff and students on the principles and application of the ‘No Disadvantage Guarantee’ policy. It must be consulted in conjunction with other relevant documentation, including:

        a) The Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook.
        b) The Credit and Qualifications Framework.
        c) The Quality Review Framework.
      3. The guidance within this chapter is underpinned by the following generic principles that apply in all instances. These are:

        a) The equitable treatment of students.
        b) Transparency.
        c) Consistency.
        d) Maintenance of the academic standards and integrity of University of Exeter awards.
    2. Principles
      1. The additional measures are as follows:
        a) A positive commitment to upward scaling.
        b) Additional individual adjustments (Undergraduate and Postgraduate Taught students and professional doctorate research students).
        c) Expanding our definition of the ‘borderline zone’ for classification (preponderance).
    3. Upward Scaling
      1. Under the No Disadvantage Guarantee the University has made a positive commitment to upward scaling on all Undergraduate and Postgraduate Taught modules. Scaling is the systematic adjustment of a set of marks for a module/assessment in order to ensure that they properly reflect the achievements of the students in meeting the module learning outcomes. Scaling will be applied subsequent to the final marking and moderation processes by the Programme/Discipline Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACS).
      2. APACS will compare the descriptive statistics (mean, median standard deviation) of student cohort performance in 2020/21 with marks from the 3 academic years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, where they are available. APACs will undertake this comparison at module level, noting that scaling will normally be undertaken at module level.
      3. APACS will then apply appropriate adjustments to correct any statistically significant deviation. For example, should a module show a distribution of student attainment significantly below that of previous year groups, then the APAC will scale the cohort results to make the comparable with the attainment in years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Where a module has been run for the first time in 2020/21, an appropriate cognate module(s) will be used for the comparison or reference made to programme level and/or year group metrics.
      4. Scaling will be undertaken where deviation between 2020/21 marks are statistically significantly different from historic marks. For modules with ten or more students, this statistical significance will be tested using the Welch’s t-test, where the 99% confidence level will be used as the threshold for direct scaling intervention. Where there is a module whose assessment is taken by fewer than ten students and which has performed better or worse than a previous cohort, the APAC should consider the corresponding mark distribution contextually.
      5. Any modules which require upward scaling should be scaled such that the mean mark achieved for this year is comparable to the composite module mean for the three previous Covid-19 unimpacted years. Any student with a mark of zero, for example when a student has deferred and assessment and not yet completed a module, should be removed from the scaling calculations. For consistency and comparability when scaling marks from previous Referral and Deferral periods will be also excluded from any calculations.
      6. APACs are committed to scaling upwardly when the criteria outlined above in section 6.3.3 are met, however, if there is no statistically significant downward deviation, action is not required. Downward scaling remains an option open to APACs where appropriate, but care should be taken to ensure that overall results of scaling do not lead to a lower overall mean than that of previous unimpacted years, as outlined above.
      7. Where downward scaling is considered essential for fairness, for example with respect to comparison between students choosing different modules, the lower limit for scaling will be defined by the historic programme-level data for the module that is under consideration (i.e. the programme to which the module is most closely associated). As long as marks are not scaled beyond this level, the overall statistics for the programme will not fall below the historic programme-level data and the university’s guarantee to students will be fulfilled.
      8. Standard rules with regard to the application of scaling as set out in Chapter 5.7 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook must be applied.
    4. Individual Adjustments
      1. The University has made a commitment under its No Disadvantage Guarantee for the 2020/21 academic year to:

        Further empower departmental Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APACs) to take decisions and make adjustments - where justified - to account for the exceptional circumstances of individual students, recognising the particular challenges of this year.
      2. In order that students may qualify to be considered for these adjustments it is necessary that they are able to provide evidence that they have been impacted by ‘Exceptional Circumstances’.

        In the context of the No-disadvantage guarantee ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ are circumstances beyond a student’s control, which have occurred during the 2020/21 academic year, are unique to them, linked directly or indirectly to the Covid-19 pandemic and, due to their severity and/or duration and cumulative nature, have had a significant impact on their ability to study and thus their performance in assessments and/or examinations. In order to be considered as affected by ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ the student must have been significantly adversely affected, over and above the experience of other students, as a result of conditions imposed by the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

        These circumstances include:
        a) Having been ill with Covid-19 and/or experienced prolonged after-effects sometimes referred to as ‘long Covid’.
        b) Having experienced the exacerbation of an existing health condition, including a mental health condition, due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation, including difficulties in accessing care or support.
        c) Having experienced the long-term hospitalisation of a close family relative during the Covid-19 pandemic, in which restrictions impacted on the visitation and support.
        d) Having experienced the death of a close family relative during the Covid-19 pandemic, in which restrictions impacted on the grieving process, support provisions and funeral arrangements.
        e) Having taken on exceptional caring responsibilities due to Covid-19, including supporting family members who are clinically extremely vulnerable or supporting the home schooling of young children.
        f) If studying part time, having been required to carry out more paid work than usual, as a ‘key worker’ (e.g. in healthcare,, delivery, transport).
        g) Having experienced significant financial hardship, as a result of the loss of part time work (not including being placed on furlough), which normally supplemented your income (e.g. in hospitality and catering).
        h) Having experienced significant and prolonged IT/technical or other exceptional problems which prevented access to teaching and learning materials when studying from home and that they were not able to resolve by an application to the Success for All Fund.
        i) Having experienced significant and prolonged disruption to your academic studies as a result of changed accommodation and/or living circumstances brought about as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
      3. Students who were evacuated and subsequently displaced from their usual accommodation for longer than the weekend of 26-28 February 2021, as a result of the detonation of the unexploded World War Two bomb, will automatically be considered as having experienced Exceptional Circumstances from the date of the evacuation onwards. They do not, therefore, need to submit an application for these specific circumstances.
      4. Exceptional Circumstances differ from those declared for the purposes of Mitigation by their severity and/or duration and their cumulative impact. They will have had an impact on part or the whole of the academic year and potentially a number of assessments and/or examinations. Evidence is required to support all applications.
      5. The Mitigation process should continue to be used to request extensions or deferrals in respect of less severe and/or shorter term circumstances which impact on the completion of specific assessments and examinations. For 2020/21 this process continues to be evidence free.
      6. Application for Consideration of Exceptional Circumstances
        1. Eligibility
          1. All University of Exeter undergraduate and postgraduate taught students will be eligible to apply. There will different application windows for some groups of students (see below).
          2. Students can only make one application for consideration during each application window. Application windows will take place in the lead up to each APAC period.
          3. The process does not apply to Post Graduate Research Students (e.g. on PhD and other research degrees), who should continue to access the support services and advice provided by the Doctoral College.
        2. Timing
          1. The process will open initially from 19 April–21 May 2021 for University of Exeter undergraduate and postgraduate taught students with the exception of postgraduate taught students whose programme started in January 2021.
          2. In order that applications will be considered at the June 2021 APACS applications must be received by no later than 21 May 2021.
          3. The process will also be available ahead of the APACs for students sitting referred/deferred assessments in August 2021. The University will advise when this becomes available.
          4. Students on postgraduate taught programme which started in January 2021 will be eligible for the same process but with an application window  later in the calendar year. The University will advise when this becomes available.
        3. Application Process
          1. Students will be invited to apply to be considered as having been impacted by exceptional circumstances using a dedicated online form and will be asked to provide evidence in support of their application. Details of the process and the form can be accessed here.

            Students must be explicit in detailing:
            a. The exceptional circumstances that have affected them;
            b. The University support they have already accessed or received;
            c. The date range(s) of the period they were exceptionally affected (this should match the dates and times supported by the evidence); and
            d. The corroborating evidence being submitted.
        4. Evidence
          Students must provide evidence in support of their application. The University will not be able to consider application for Exceptional Circumstances which are not supported by evidence. Acceptable forms of evidence can be written confirmation from:

          a) A GP or other healthcare professional (whether from the University of your home location) if physical and/or mental health has been impacted.
          b)  A Counsellor, Education Support Advisor for Welfare (ESAW) or other wellbeing professional (whether from the University or home location) if these services have been accessed due to the impact on the student’s wellbeing.
          c) A family member, if a student has needed to provide care and support for them and this has had an impact on their studies.
          d) A child/children’s school, if a student has been required to home school their child(ren) as a result of not being entitled, or able, to access in school education and care.
          e) A current or former employer, if the impact has been as a result of an increase or decrease in working hours.
          f) An Academic Personal Tutor, or Senior Personal Tutor, if they are aware of impact that exceptional circumstances have had on a student’s studies and assessments and/or examinations.
          g) Official documentary evidence such as:
          i. A hospital admissions or discharge note, if the student or a family member have been hospitalised;
          ii. A death certificate or copy of order of funeral service for a family member, if the student has experienced a bereavement; and/or
          iii. A copy of a child/children’s birth certificate, as evidence of having had to home school children.

          This list is not exhaustive and other sources of evidence may be considered.
        5. Consideration of Applications
          1. Applications will be screened to ensure they meet the criteria for ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ as defined in this policy above and to ensure they are supported by written evidence.
          2. Valid applications will then be considered by the relevant Mitigation Committee for each students’ discipline.
          3. The Mitigation Committee will review applications to determine the severity and duration of impacts, with a particular focus on the cumulative effects of multiple impacts.
          4. The Mitigation Committee will make a recommendation to Discipline APACs where they consider that a student’s grade profile should be reviewed in light of the severity and duration of the impact of exceptional circumstances.
          5. A representative of the Mitigation Committee will attend the Discipline APAC meeting where recommendations for individual adjustments are considered and implemented.
        6. Additional Powers of DAPACs
          1. Where recommendations have been received from the Mitigation Committee to indicate that a student’s grade profile should be reviewed in light of the impact of the exceptional circumstances they have experienced the Discipline APAC will consider applying each of the following adjustments:

            a) Setting aside an assessment mark or module mark when considering progression, classification or condonement.
            b) Substituting a proxy mark for an affected assessment where there is sufficient evidence of a student’s performance in other examination/assignments.
            c) Applying retrospective mitigation in the form of deferral (uncapped reassessment).
            d) Recommend adjustments to degree classifications of individual students.
            e) Offering further options to students with RWA status and relaxing repeat study requirements.
            f) Using viva voce examinations (where necessary) to determine which (if any) of the above outcomes to apply.
          2. College APACS will receive and confirm all Discipline APAC adjustments and only consider individual student adjustments in detail where they require further scrutiny or advice is needed. CAPACS will ensure that a consistent approach has been undertaken within all Disciplines in the College.
          3. The University APACs (UAPACs) will review the application and outcomes of this proposed procedure from an institution-wide perspective.
        7. Notification of outcomes
          1. Students will be notified at the time of results release whether or not:

            a) The potential for significant impact on their assessments and/or exams had been recognised and agreed by the Mitigation Committee.
            b) An associated impact on their grades/grade profile was been observed by their APAC; and
            c) The APAC has, using its academic judgement and the data and information available, made an adjustment to their grades/grade profile, or recommended another course of action.
        8. Right of appeal
          1. In accordance with the University’s Academic Appeals Procedure all students have a right of appeal against the academic decisions and recommendations made by the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committee (APAC) that affect academic progress. Students who are concerned about a decision made following the submission of an application for Exceptional Circumstances, should follow the normal Academic Appeal procedure and submit evidence as required.
          2. Please note that it is a principle of the University that appeals cannot be made against the academic judgment of either an internal or external examiner of the University. Students can, however, appeal if you believe that this judgment was not made fairly or according to the correct University process.
    5. Viva (Consideration of impact of Exceptional Circumstances) Policy and Process for Taught Programmes
      1. Introduction
        1. During exceptional years, an additional process is needed to provide confidence in individual students’ abilities so that individual marks can be appropriately adjusted or further assessment attempts can be recommended.
        2. A viva process has been created in order to provide assurance to students that we have the means individually to assess students in circumstances where; contextual evidence indicates that this is required and in order to provide confidence in relation to either to mark allocation or to additional assessment attempts.
        3. This document provides the detail of this policy and process to be followed.
      2. Principles
        1. In order to provide additional support to students during exceptional years, it is proposed that the viva process be utilised in cases where individual circumstances suggest that existing marks may not be appropriate, requiring use of either a proxy mark or for marks to be set aside (please refer to section 10.5.7 Mitigation: Deadline extensions and deferrals of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook for more information on these policies).
        2. It is intended that the viva process be utilised in order to support academic judgement and give confidence in individual adjustments where required. The implementation of a viva process will allow any concerns to be appropriately measured and evidenced before a decision is made in relation to any individual adjustments.
        3. This process will allow a member of the marking team, together with a senior academic (e.g. Head of Department, Chair of APAC or Director of Education), to interview a student via video link to discuss assessments in order to establish the need for any individual adjustments or further assessment attempts as appropriate.
      3. Criteria for student support cases
        1. The viva process should only occur if:

          a) Verifiable contextual evidence indicates that an individual student has been disproportionately affected by circumstances beyond their control during an exceptional year; and
          b) The marks received for an individual assessment (or group of assessments) are significantly lower than those already awarded for a module, or are below the mean mark for all module assessments taken during their stage up to that point; and
          c) The Department APAC have been unable to recommend a suitable adjustment to a student’s mark or marks and have put forward the student's case for review by viva.
      4. Viva
        1. Through the course of the viva conversation a student will be asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the work and topic in question. If they demonstrate sufficient understanding of the information to assure the marking team of the requirement for individual adjustments or further assessment, then a recommendation will be made to the APAC for appropriate action, e.g. set-aside of marks, award of an appropriate proxy mark, or further assessment attempts.
        2. If through the viva a student fails to reassure the marking team in relation to either the above, then the team may decide not to make any individual adjustments or recommendation for further assessment attempts.
        3. The marking team/viva committee will produce a summary report of the viva to act as evidence for further investigation. This report will also accompany the moderation material for consideration by External Examiners at the APAC.
        4. The viva forms part of the marking process and as such it is possible for a student to submit a formal appeal in relation to any viva held with them following the relevant APAC if they felt they had grounds to do so.
      5. Operational Standards
        1. The following procedures are suggested as minimum operational standards for the holding of viva voce examinations:

          a) A viva should be held if requested by the Departmental APAC.
          b) The criteria for the selection of students for vivas, as outlined above, must be consistently applied.
          c) Students must be given five working days’ notice of a viva so as to enable them to attend.
          d) The focus of attention in the viva discussion will be the areas of study covered within the relevant examination or assessment.
          e) The student must be notified of the following at the time of being invited to the viva: who will be attending the viva and the rationale for this selection.
          f) The viva should not extend beyond 30 minutes in duration.
          g) Vivas should normally follow a question and answer format. The questions can address any aspect of the submission, and there is no minimum or maximum number of questions that might be asked.
          h) A summary of the discussion should be kept and the recommendation from the viva must be submitted to the APAC along with any other supporting material.
      6. Identification
        1. The Departmental APAC can identify students for whom a viva would be necessary to help determine which adjustment to apply to a student’s mark or marks.
        2. This should be reported to the Hub, so that they are able to identify the student and make a note that a viva will be taking place. A provisional mark should be returned at this stage on the basis of the quality of the work submitted.
      7. Notification
        1. Student should be notified that the marking team would like to hold a viva. Template text for this notification is provided in Appendix A - No Disadvantage Guarantee Template Invitation to Viva. This email should go out from the relevant Professional Services Staff designated within the College Operations/Education Support team.
        2. Viva should take place as soon as possible but the student must have at least five working days’ notice.
      8. Meeting
        1. Meeting should be attended by two academic staff – a member of the marking team and a senior academic (Head of Department, Chair of APAC or Director of Education).
        2. The meeting should be conducted over Teams.
        3. The meeting should not exceed 30 minutes.
        4. Questions should test students’ knowledge and understanding of the topic and the work produced.
        5. No recording will be made of the meeting, the academics should provide a joint written summary of the meeting.
      9. Outcome
        1. Where academics are confident that individual adjustments should be implemented or further assessment attempts granted, this should be recommended to the APAC for ratification. Where the viva process has not provided sufficient confidence to make individual adjustments or award additional assessment attempts, the student’s current marks should stand. However, students retain the right to appeal this decision.
    6. Preponderance
      1. Chapter 9 – Classification of Awards, of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook, outlines the principles for award and classification required for all awards associated with taught programmes. In order to recognise the changes proposed for 2020/21 regarding expanding the zone of discretion in relation to classification (preponderance) by 1%, it is proposed that the relevant tables be amended as follows (upper thresholds and pass thresholds remain unchanged);

        Rules for Classification of Bachelors and Integrated Masters Degrees
        Qualifies for First Class Honours A final weighted mark greater than or equal to 69.50%
        A final weighted mark greater than or equal to 67.00% and modules to the value of at least 50% of stage weighted credits with a module mark greater than or equal to 70%
        Qualifies for Upper Second Class Honours A final weighted mark greater than or equal to 59.50%
        A final weighted mark greater than or equal to 57.00% and modules to the value of at least 50% of stage weighted credits with a module mark greater than or equal to 60%
        Qualifies for Lower Second Class Honours A final weighted mark greater than or equal to 49.50%
        A final weighted mark greater than or equal to 47.00% and modules to the value of at least 50% of stage weighted credits with a module mark greater than or equal to 50%
        Qualifies for Third Class Honours A final weighted mark greater than or equal to 40.00%

        Rules for Classification of Taught Postgraduate Awards
        Pass/ Fail threshold for the programme The pass/ fail threshold for the programme is a final weighted mark of 50.00%
        Qualifies for Distinction award A final credit-weighted mark greater than or equal to 69.50%
        A final credit-weighted mark greater than or equal to 67.00% and modules to the value of at least 50% with a module mark greater than or equal to 70%
        Qualifies for Merit award A final credit-weighted mark greater than or equal to 59.50%
        A final credit-weighted mark greater than or equal to 57.00% and modules to the value of at least 50% with a module mark greater than or equal to 60%
        Overall pass mark A final credit-weighted mark greater than or equal to 50.00%
        Pass/ Fail threshold for the programme The pass/ fail threshold for the programme is an average of 50.00%
      2. In order to allow a greater zone of discretion in relation to classification, it was agreed that the zones of discretion outlined in Chapter 9 – Classification of Awards, of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook, should be expanded by 1%.
      3. It is intended that this will only apply to those students who completed assessments in 2020/21 which have or will contribute to their final degree classification. APACs will have the authority to award each student in this borderline zone a higher class of degree where, as per standard preponderance rules, at least half the student’s weighted credits lie in the higher class.
      4. It is intended that amendments to classification zones may only be considered during exceptional years and only applied if it is considered appropriate. The proposed 1% increase will only be offered to those who completed assessments in the 2020/21 academic year which contribute to their degree classification. This is because they arguably stand to be impacted the most by the disruption of that year. Those who opt to defer assessments to 2021/22 or who will be resitting without attendance in a subsequent year will also be included as they had undertaken study during the academic year 2020/21. Those who opted to repeat the year will not be included, unless 2021/22 is determined as an ‘exceptional year’ and one in which the same adjustment of the preponderance boundary is deemed necessary.
      5. Those who were resitting without attendance in 2020/21, or who were not completing a full stage will be included.
    7. Appeals
      1. In considering adjustments to the Appeals Procedures, we have considered what we can offer in terms of retrospective mitigation which is fair and reasonable to all students, taking into consideration the exceptional nature of the context in which students are undertaking assessments but also with the expectation that students will avail themselves in a timely manner of the various opportunities that are available to students to mitigate should they feel they have been impacted.
      2. All students are therefore expected to apply for mitigation in a timely manner and seek the support of the various support mechanisms available to them to enable them to succeed. However, we recognise that where a student has experienced health and/or wellbeing issues, the current requirement that a student provides evidence from a healthcare professional that they were not only ill, but also unable to engage in the mitigation procedures at the time they were impacted, can be difficult to evidence.
      3. Therefore, in exceptional years, the following adjustments will apply:
        1. In circumstances where a student has been unable to engage with the mitigation process at the time they were impacted, rather than the current requirement of evidence from a health professional that a student was unable to engage in the mitigation procedure at the time, this will be adjusted to ‘the provision of evidence that the student was ill or receiving treatment from a healthcare professional at the time they were impacted’.
        2. In circumstances where a student states in their appeal that they were too unwell to sit their referred/deferred exams in August, students will automatically be given a second attempt at the deferred/referred assessment(s). This will not require medical evidence. It must be noted that such an outcome would impact a student’s progression.
        3. Where a student is being put forward by the APAC for referral in an assessment, and they provide evidence from a health professional that they were ill at the time of the original submission, consideration will be more readily given than at present to lifting the cap on that reassessment.

 Appendix A - No Disadvantage Guarantee Template Invitation to Viva


Last reviewed July 2021


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