Board member news

Update on January and February return, safety net information and rent rebates

Claire Morgan

Read a message from Claire Morgan, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students sent on 13 January.

Dear Student

My most recent message mentioned that I would be back in touch to update you on a number of key issues tied to our decision to move the majority of in-person teaching back to the 22 February. Your school will be in touch with you shortly on what this means for your course (if they haven’t already).

As promised, I’m sharing with you the key decisions that affect your academic (and wider) experience with us – our safety net approach and rebate for those in University accommodation. These changes have been made with our Students’ Union, and my thanks to everyone who has provided feedback. I am also mindful that many of you have written to myself or the Vice-Chancellor, and we will get back to you shortly. This does mean that today’s message is slightly longer than normal, but I thought it essential that you have all the details.

Approach to Safety Net
I understand that this has caused concern among many of you, given the disruption you have experienced. In the last week, we have sought feedback from our student body, including from the Students’ Union who held an open meeting with our students to understand their concerns. We also reviewed national feedback from the Russell Group of Students’ Unions. 

As a result of this partnership working, we have updated the package of measures (our safety net approach) to ensure you continue to be supported during this challenging year, that you are given a fair grade that reflects your hard work, and the integrity and recognition of your qualification is protected.

The main features of this safety net approach for 2020/21 include:

  • Examining Boards will ensure that the standards achieved by student cohorts in 2020/21 are comparable with previous years to ensure no disadvantage. Module marks for the 2020/21 cohort will be compared against module marks of cohorts in previous years and where there is an unexplained variation, scaling will be applied
  • On an individual level, we have also reintroduced the opportunity for uncapped resits i.e. if you attempt assessments during the 2020/21 academic year (excluding the Resit Period) at the first attempt but fail the module, you will not be disadvantaged by the capping of resit marks
  • We have made changes to the Extenuating Circumstances Policy to permit you to self-certify if you have extenuating circumstances granting, for example an automatic two-week extension for coursework or to defer examinations or a time-limited assessment (see below for further information)
  • A revised secondary rule has been carried forward from last year which permits Examining Board to classify degrees based on the profile of marks and we will also, where it benefits undergraduate students, calculate an alternative degree average mark which excludes assessments completed from 16 March 2020 until the end of the 2019/20 academic year.

In addition, in preparation for this academic year we undertook a number of actions when planning and preparing teaching and assessment activity to support students and ensure that they should not be disadvantaged. These include:

  • The arrangements for teaching and assessment have been designed to be delivered by a blend of on-campus and online activity or for some programmes wholly online, if required. This blend is underpinned by a digital learning framework to ensure minimum thresholds for each module based on pedagogy of what works well in the digital learning environment.
  • We asked Schools to adapt and reduce assessment where relevant and to consider submission deadlines and timings at local level to ensure they are fit for the digital learning environment and workload
  • A remote study policy was also introduced since the start of the academic year to permit students on many degree programmes to study remotely, replacing on-campus activity with online provision. Over 4,000 students have taken advantage of this option.

Consistent with other Universities we are not applying an individual algorithmic ‘average mark B’ approach for modules pursued in 2020/21, because unlike 2019/20 there is insufficient pre-COVID-19 assessments completed on which progression or degree outcomes could reliably be based. The Russell Group of Students’ Unions have recognised the challenge of this situation which we welcome.

All these measures will ensure that we remain fully committed to ensuring the fair assessment of our students, while at the same time recognising that this year’s cohorts have faced a considerable number of challenges.

We are currently working through some additional and detailed FAQs on the above and these will be published very shortly.

Postgraduate research students are currently covered by a variation until the end of January. We are reviewing the possibility of extending these variations beyond the end of January and will communicate separately with postgraduate research students later this month.

Rebate for those in University accommodation
Given last week’s decision to defer the start of in-person teaching for most programmes until 22 February (with the exception of health-related and practical-based programmes where on-campus activity is required), we have been reviewing our approach to student accommodation fees. 

We have listened closely to our students and have had constructive conversations with Cardiff University Students’ Union. We are mindful of the concerns that have been raised about the payment of University accommodation fees when many of you have been advised to delay your return to University.

I am pleased to say that we will be offering a rent rebate for those students in our residences who have not returned to their accommodation. This is for the full period that you cannot return. Our students in Clodien House and Unite by Cardiff University will be covered by a rent rebate arrangement that Unite is implementing. Students who are released from their Residences Agreement on the basis of their remote study request being approved will have their accommodation fees adjusted in line with that approval.

If you are entitled to this rebate, this will be applied to your third instalment of accommodation fees payable in April. We will confirm the process for this in due course but wanted you to know as soon as possible this decision had been made. Given timings, your second instalment will need to be paid as normal.

For those students in private accommodation – if you require evidence of the dates you are not required to be on campus we can provide this. Please email Registry Support who can provide the necessary confirmation.

We will keep all of this under review as we develop our plans for your return to Cardiff, or should government guidelines mean we need to again consider the current in-person teaching resumption date of 22 February.

Our current plan remains to stagger the return of those students whose teaching does not recommence until 22 February in support of the Welsh Government’s plans for all Universities in Wales. This will take the form of returning to Cardiff to take a COVID test and allowing you time to follow the guidance around ‘laying low’ well in advance of the resumption of your in-person teaching.  This is all subject to Welsh and UK governance guidelines and we will issue more information in due course.

Latest Welsh Government announcement
The Welsh Government issued a new announcement on Friday, further revising their existing guidance for Universities in Wales. In it, you will find reference to students requiring ‘two asymptomatic tests’, but as previously shared with you our students only need to book the one test, via our in-house screening service, but I once again emphasise that it is vitally important that you do book a test for your return to Cardiff.

Travelling to Cardiff
Once the date of your in-person teaching is confirmed by your School, please note:

  • If you are joining us from elsewhere in the UK, travelling for educational purposes has been confirmed by the Welsh (and UK) government as a reasonable excuse to travel. Further guidance on travelling to Wales can be found here.
  • If you are travelling to Wales from overseas, please check what the guidance requires you to do before travelling
  • In both instances, the Welsh and UK governments have published useful advice on how to travel safely.

Safety on campus
Our campus remains safe (and open). However, all our safety measures rely on the full cooperation of our students – this is more important than ever given the new variants of the virus now in the UK. If you are already back in Cardiff, please remember to adhere to our safety measures, which support the community commitment. Staff in areas such as our Libraries are reporting students increasingly unwilling to wear face coverings. Any student failing to follow this, and other safety measures, is putting both their fellow students and staff at risk, and jeopardising access to such facilities in the future.

Extenuating circumstances
I thought it also helpful to remind you about what to do if you are experiencing personal circumstances around the time of an assessment, where those circumstances may impact your preparation for – or performance at – the assessment.  You can find further information about the Extenuating Circumstances Procedure and the types of circumstances that would be regarded as extenuating here.

If you would like advice about completing the extenuating circumstances form then you can receive independent advice from Student Advice in the Students’ Union on +44 (0)29 2078 1410 or advice@cardiff.ac.uk

Supporting you
We recognise how difficult these times are for you, the unique issues and wide-ranging circumstances our students face and the impact this may have on your mental health and wellbeing. We are here for you and are doing everything to ensure you have access to the appropriate support. This includes:

  • Student Connect for support and access to our Student Support and Wellbeing teams who can help you with looking after your health and wellbeing, managing your money, living in Cardiff and the UK, supporting your studies and preparing for your future
  • The intranet has information on all aspects of student life with information and resources from across the university, including exams and assessment, digital learning resources, university policies and much more
  • TalkCampus is a social networking site that brings together students who are going through the same struggles. It provides mental health support in a safe place where you can talk anonymously about your concerns.
  • Your School Office or Academic Personal Tutor to discuss any concerns you have, particularly those specific to your school or course.

I appreciate this is a lengthy message but it contains extremely important detail for you to review and consider. As ever we will continue to keep you updated both via these messages and Student News.
 

Best wishes and do stay safe

Claire Morgan
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Education and Students