While universities across the UK and elsewhere look to No Detriment policies as a way to provide their students with a ‘safety net’ during this pandemic, many colleges in Ireland have maintained their own course on how best to deal with the issues students face.
However, while these measures are intended to improve students’ experiences in the shackles of self-isolation, many of these adjustments do not have the desired impact on those most severely disadvantaged. They very much fall short of what a No Detriment policy could achieve. Of course the road to implementation of this policy in a form that suits the college system in Ireland will be tiresome and difficult in itself and will of course take time. Though, is it not worth this difficulty so as to improve the ability of students to perform to their potential in the presence of the unnecessary stresses being brought upon them by the upheaval of their school year.
Why, exactly, do I think No Detriment policy is the best way forward? Firstly, it is vital to ensure base equality of opportunity for all third-level students to succeed in these trying times. There are students across Ireland who face extremely tough living standards that will inevitably impact their ability to perform to the standards that they have thus far maintained throughout their studies. Some of these students are subject to abuse or are battling with their mental health. Others are required to care for close loved ones who may be sick or in at-risk groups. This may extend to the students who are required to spend significant portions of their time caring for younger siblings who are in their care where their parents need to leave the home for work in essential services. Of course, many students in Ireland are classified as essential workers themselves, specifically student nurses and food retail workers. This means that many students are putting their health at risk, and this too, could potentially have an extremely adverse impact on their studies. What of those with learning disabilities who are now unable to access the required level of support that would have been available to them in the college setting. Then, there are the myriad students who simply lack resources that they would otherwise have at third level institutions. There will be students without laptops, students without quality broadband and stationery which will have an impact on their ability to engage with and study class materials and lectures. There are those who lack even the most often taken for granted resources like heating that will inevitably impact a student’s ability to study.
There will be students without laptops, students without quality broadband and stationery which will have an impact on their ability to engage with and study class materials and lectures. There are those who lack even the most often taken for granted resources like heating that will inevitably impact a student’s ability to study.
This brings me back to one of the first points I mentioned. Many students will struggle with anxiety and stress that is bound to occur for those struggling, particularly where their degree and futures are dependent on particular results. Many will find themselves competing with graduates from Cambridge, Exeter etc., all universities and colleges who have implemented No Detriment Policies. For the most part, these students' grades will be in unfair competition when compared to the grades that have been obtained at universities with No Detriment Policies. I do not think employers will look at any Cambridge graduate and think their degree is worth less merely because they were supported by the university during a global pandemic where they were forced to study in much less than ideal circumstances.
This takes me onto processes such as extenuating circumstances. While many have argued that the process of applying for such relief has been relaxed in University College Dublin, for example, this is an insufficient response and also detrimental in itself. It creates a climate of unfairness where some may, without the need for formal evidence, abuse the system. These students may exploit the lack of a need for formal evidence to gain higher grades. While this is unfair to students who do not exploit the system, it is even more unfair to those students who genuinely require extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately, many people struggling with issues described above, such as abuse, anxiety, depression, and poverty, may not feel they are able to fill out a form outlining their struggles. They may feel uncomfortable with a process which is technically judgment, i.e. telling them what their hardship is worth in grade points. We must understand that there is often a climate of silence around such issues that prevents these people who are struggling from speaking up. Thus, relaxing application requirements for extenuating circumstances will not truly help those who need help the most with regards to the negative externalities caused by this epidemic.
It is important to note that No Detriment policies do not remove the incentive to work. Rather, they create security for those who are disadvantaged or face dire home circumstances. We must look beyond our privilege to extend a hand to those without equal opportunity to succeed and pull them up. I would urge third level institutions across the whole of Ireland to consider the implementation of these policies and help those most in need.