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Coronavirus - CS032101

A student was on a one year taught postgraduate course. As a result of the nationwide lockdown announced in March 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, the provider restricted access to on-campus facilities such as the library, and teaching was moved online.

The provider made some changes to its assessment arrangements. The student’s department reduced the word count for the student’s dissertation by 25% and extended the submission deadline by a week. The student submitted their dissertation and was given a mark that was 1% below the boundary for a Distinction.

The student made an academic appeal to the provider on the grounds that the lower word count meant that they could not expand on key arguments relevant to their research, and that their other work, which they had referenced in the dissertation, ought to have been taken into account alongside it. The provider rejected the appeal and the student complained to us.

We decided that the complaint was Not Justified.

We concluded that it was reasonable for the provider to adjust assessment and marking criteria as part of its strategy for managing the disruption caused by the pandemic. The provider gave appropriate guidance to examiners and explained the changes to students in reasonable time. The student had time to plan and write their dissertation in line with the adjusted criteria. Students were also able to submit with their dissertation a statement setting out how their work had been affected by the disruption. It was disappointing for the student not to be able to incorporate all their arguments within the shorter word count, but the examiners reasonably focused their attention on the piece of work in front of them. Their assessment that the student’s work fell just below the standard of a Distinction was a matter of academic judgment. The student also had the opportunity to defend their work in an oral examination.

The student was particularly concerned that their chances of successfully applying for a PhD would be affected by their mark. As the examiners had said that the student would make a good PhD candidate, we hoped the provider would look sympathetically on the student’s application.

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