The pandemic has caused us to reassess so many aspects of the way we work, including our provision for students facing unexpected life events. In this latest briefing paper, SUMS Principal Consultants, Jeannette Strachan and Helen Baird share insight from recent discussions with sector representatives on exceptional circumstances.

The announce of lockdown brought on unprecedented times in the HE sector. During this period, students returned home partway through the academic year and remote learning replaced face-to-face teaching. To ensure students were not disadvantaged, universities moved quickly. In order to manage an anticipated tidal wave of requests for exceptional circumstances, they introduced a range of measures. Many universities relaxed their usual rules and implemented automatic 14-day extensions, self-certification and relaxed evidence requirements. Following these changes, many institutions introduced monthly rolling assessment boards to manage incoming requests.

In recent years, universities have experienced an exponential increase in the volume of requests for exceptional circumstances. Elements of the student body remain dissatisfied with the process. This dissatisfaction persists, in spite of a huge amount of academic and administrative resource being devoted to the activity. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) reports that one-fifth of its complaints arise from this process. The complaints relate to students finding it hard to use the process, to meet the set deadlines or to get the evidence they need. Students may have successfully navigated the process but still feel that the outcome is unfair. In some cases, they are unable to appeal.

So, what have we learnt from managing the process during a lockdown? SUMS Consulting ran a workshop with 33 practitioners in the field in mid-September. In doing this, we sought to consider the learnings and what changes lie ahead for the way universities support students with this process in the coming academic year.

You can read more here: SUMS Briefing Paper – Exceptional Circumstances – October 2020.

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