An Amended Mitigation System is Needed For Good – Liberal Article
The angst caused by the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone, including students. Universities have been prompted into rethinking their mitigation policies in order to accommodate for the new problems facing students.
My university – Exeter – adopted an unlimited no-questions-asked mitigation policy. It has been a welcome relief in these times of uncertainty, and the new policy got me thinking; should the original mitigation policy be reformed post-pandemic? I will argue it should, in the form of two ‘free passes’ a term; a concept I shall explain in more detail.
The anxiety caused by the pandemic is an issue well versed by now. The ONS surveyed 2,000 students in the Autumn term, finding that 57% of students reported a worsening in their mental health and wellbeing. Symptoms associated with this deterioration included lack of sleep, reckless drug and alcohol intake, as well as loneliness. Many students reading this may relate to the statistics and recognise an erosion in their own mental health over the past 12 months. I know that I am not exempt from poorer mental health in relation to the lockdown situation.
Yet, in the middle of a pandemic, students are still expected to complete their degrees to normal academic standards. It may seem like bad luck for students attending university at this time. However, the reality is the world keeps turning and we must finish our degrees. Despite this reality, there can be no doubt that the aforementioned issues are having a negative effect on students’ ability to produce a good standard of work.
Student life has proven especially troublesome when confronted with numerous deadlines in a short space of time. This year, I have mitigated work on a couple of occasions. It has proven to be a lifeline for me and many other students. If I had not deferred these deadlines, it is likely I would have been overwhelmed. The mitigation lifeline allowed me to better manage my workload, better complete pieces of work, and crucially at this time: relieve stress.
Stress can lead to mental health problems including depression and anxiety. Managing stress can, in turn, prevent a downward spiral of mental health. Such feelings of stress in relation to my deadlines has prompted me to compare it to pre-pandemic pressures. I concluded that the stress experienced within the context of work and deadlines was not too different on either side of March 2020.
Survey findings reveal that workload stress is not new. In a 2013 NUS study, 65% of participants stated that course workload and deadlines were the top factors contributing to mental distress. Similarly, the UPP’s 2017 Annual Student Experience Study saw 59% of respondents state that the stress of studying was the biggest factor making it difficult to cope. In fact, this state of play has been a gradual process. Research from the Institute for Public Policy Research found that since 2009, five times as many students have disclosed to their tutors or lecturers that they have a mental health issue; a state worsened by exams and deadlines. This is not a healthy position for students to find themselves in, pandemic or otherwise.
Many students talk about the stress of deadlines, and often we witness our own or our friend’s mental health decline as a result. But has enough been done to protect student’s mental health in relation to deadlines? I argue the answer is no. However, there is a progressive way forward, and my suggestion is a reformed mitigation policy post-pandemic.
The new system would give students two ‘free passes’ a term. This pass would be a no-questions-asked, up-to three-week mitigation. It would allow students to spread out their deadlines if they are overwhelmed with stress. However, limiting ‘free passes’ to two would maintain the integrity of the degrees. I fear that if you permanently adopt a mitigation policy like the pandemic specific one, you could gradually erode the integrity of the degrees and consequently standards would drop. Limiting the passes to two a term gives students the responsibility. It will give them the autonomy to manage their work, and their well-being, where they see fit.
This ‘free pass’ could also be used in times of bereavement or serious mental or physical illness which would have previously required a very distressing mitigation application. However, if mitigation is required after the ‘two passes’ are used up, the student would have to go through the traditional mitigation process. This, as mentioned, is to protect the integrity of the degrees.
I can already hear murmurs of disapproval from sceptics who may label students as “snowflakes” who are seeking to “play the system”. The truth be told, views like this disregard student’s mental health as a trivial issue.
The reality for us students is, across a number of modules, there may be a cluster of deadlines in the space of a week. Or we may be struggling with our mental health. Or something serious is going on in our lives that is affecting our ability to work. Before, the mitigation system maintained a high threshold of acceptance which consequently manifested an environment in which application for mitigation was discouraged. Instead, the ‘free pass’ mitigation policy is designed to tackle the very real problems I have mentioned. It is designed to protect student’s mental health; an issue that requires the undivided attention of universities now and after the pandemic.
If you are struggling with your own mental health, there are some tips here: https://www.nus.org.uk/articles/5-ways-to-manage-student-stress
Information about your university’s wellbeing services will be available on your university website.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Ben Sturt
Point of Information
Absolutely Spot On – A Conservative Response
This is a fantastic article. The writing is very well balanced between sympathies towards students and the practicalities of amending university mitigation systems. My colleague’s pragmatic approach to creating a mitigation system to help students without the value or “integrity” of the degrees declining is well measured.
Any student who reads this article can relate to some of the struggles my colleague has outlined, whether stress, depression, burnout, or all of the above. The response by universities to student well-being across the country has varied and, like Ben, I also attend the University of Exeter.
I feel our universities approach to mitigation during the pandemic, was overall, better than most other universities. Certainly, better than some of the stories I have been told by friends and seen described on social media.
Exeter was not flawless in their approach, as shown by the ‘Students for Academic Mitigation’ (S4AM), who campaigned for Exeter to re-evaluate their mitigation policy to students during the pandemic. This forced the university to recognise that this year’s cohorts are facing the same issues as last years. Moreover, the pandemic is still very present in our lives.
I personally feel that during this academic year the number of free passes should not be limited. However, I do respect the argument to maintain degree integrity. But for students who find themselves in a similar boat as myself (an FCH student who consistently has multiple assignments due the same day) two would not quite cut it.
Universities will now face some difficult choices with regards to how they amend their mitigation policies towards their students. Frankly, I feel students should be given some slack. For anyone who disagrees with me, I would like to remind them that students have essentially been paying for an Open University degree the past 13 months, but for three times the price.
Overall, I feel this is an important article. As students, we cannot expect the universities to hand us our degrees for little work. But we can demand that universities are more compassionate to our situation. The past thirteen months have been unprecedented in terms of university education. Universities need to acknowledge this with fairer mitigation policies and ending their charade of trying to pretend everything is back to normal. It simply is not.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Peter Pearce
Universities Need Wider Reform. The Issue is Not Just Mitigation – A Labour Response
My colleague makes a great point, we as students are living in a very tough time. I myself am a first-year and have faced a great struggle keeping up with my degree at times this year. Many of our readers and writers are also students and we’ve all gone through a collective struggle this academic year. Universities need reform, it’s plain to see. COVID has exposed so many problems with the way our normal life is structured. We can either choose to detract from one another, as my colleague talks about, or we can show solidarity to one another and build a better system for all.
The NUS study statistics cited are not surprising and of course students are going to feel unsupported. But we ought to question why we have such harsh mitigation systems in the first place? The truth can be found in a university system that is run for profit. The NUS study also lists financial troubles to affect 47% of students, a very significant amount. A system designed to upsell you expensive accommodation with high price degrees to have a successful future career is simply not incentivised to care about the well being of their students.
The mitigation system is a commodification of education. A short term solution is as my colleague suggests, the two free passes rule. It is a compassionate and fair solution. A longer-term solution is reducing the barriers to education. We need lower fees and a marking system that encourages students to learn to enrich their lives rather than to become just another worker.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Joseph McLaughlin