THOUSANDS of students are calling for special help from the University of Reading (UoR) as their summer exams are disrupted by the coronavirus.

Because of the new social distancing rules, students cannot sit exams in the usual way, often in large halls with tables packed in close together. 

So the UoR announced this week it would relax rules on extenuating circumstances, making it easier to extend coursework, defer or resit exams. Students can also sit exams this summer at home, online.

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But for some, they say this help isn’t going far enough.

More than 3,800 people have signed a petition urging the university to bring in a ‘no-detriment’ policy. This is something many other universities have already done, including the University of Edinburgh, the University of Exeter, and Cardiff University. 

A no-detriment policy means students would either be awarded a grade based on their average performance so far, or higher if they improve on their grade in summer exams and coursework; as long as they don’t fail by scoring less than 40 per cent of the marks.

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Students supporting the petition raised concerns about how the pandemic means a loss of teaching support, lecturers and library facilities, as well as the impact on their mental health.

One final year psychology student, who did not want to me named, said: “Not only will this have a negative effect on our employment, final results and finances, but it disadvantages those who do not have access to study spaces, supportive families or consistent internet connection.”

She also pointed to the impact the pandemic could have on mental health. She added: “That’s going to have a huge effect on students, who have lost their ability to see friends, to graduate properly, whose lectures were cancelled.

“It all happened very quickly, and everything is really overwhelming.”

A final year geography student, who also did not want to be named, said: “The response from the university isn’t adequate for all students, some of who have grade-dependant offers in September [for jobs or postgrad courses].”

He said “there is no guarantee” that exam resits could take place in August, without knowing if the lockdown will be lifted by then. 

The student added that pupils at other universities, which do have a no-detriment policy, “would be at an advantage” to Reading students in getting jobs or onto post-graduate courses.

Also supporting the no-detriment policy is Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU), which wrote an open letter to the university executive board on April 1. RUSU will ask students to vote on their position about the policy. 

RUSU initially backed the university’s decision to defer exams, and said a no-detriment policy would impact on “the standard and integrity of the degrees”. The union then quickly apologised after criticism from students, and switched its stance to support the policy. 

The open letter said: “We are now aware however that we did not enter into the no-detriment policy conversation with complete knowledge of the full range of student views, and therefore must withdraw our support of the university decision to not implement a no-detriment policy, while we hold a members vote to formalise the RUSU position.”

The university promised to publish full details of the updated policy on extenuating circumstances on Friday, April 3.

A UoR spokesperson said: “The university is committed to maintaining the quality of our students’ learning outcomes and supporting their wellbeing as best we can, in these hugely challenging circumstances. 

“Exams can be a stressful time for our student community at the best of times, so we are drawing on experience we already have with take home and online exams to provide as many students as possible the chance to complete their academic year as planned. 

“We believe that our approach will help ensure standards and currency of our students’ degree programmes and their preparedness for work and further studies.

“We have a very diverse student community and the current situation is impacting our students in very different ways. We are listening to feedback and working closely with our students’ union to develop a range of measures to ensure flexibility for every student, specific to their circumstances. 

“These include extensions for coursework and dissertations, allowing students to defer exams or retake exams if they feel that the outcome does not reflect their ability.”

Molli Cleaver, RUSU president, said: “RUSU has received a huge amount of correspondence from students, expressing concern at the lack of a no-detriment policy being implemented at the university. 

“The RUSU full-time officers are sending an open letter to the University of Reading in response to the strong feeling from students.”