Comment & Analysis
Apr 8, 2020

College Has Said No to No Detriment – But Obeyed the Spirit of the Policy

Trinity hasn't adopted no detriment – but it has put a lot of work into minimising detriment to students this exam period, writes Aoife Kearins.

Aoife Kearins Opinion Editor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

The Kinks’ Give The People What They Want was not one of the band’s more successful albums – a sign that giving the people exactly what they want is not always the best course of action.

Trinity, of course, is not a band, and a no-detriment policy is not an album – it’s not a catchy enough title anyway. But College today offered a reminder of the enduring veracity of the statement, when it decided against implementing a policy that students seemed unanimously behind. Instead, University Council opted for a number of more flexible measures that, although not containing a no-detriment policy as outlined in the student proposals, ensure that students will not have their academic success negatively affected by the current situation.

The campaign to get College to implement the no-detriment policy was well-intentioned and well-received, showing that students are concerned about how a myriad of external factors will impact their performance in the upcoming exams. It is vital that College administrators understand that students won’t be able to perform to the best of their abilities due to hit-and-miss online teaching, the uncertainty and confusion surrounding exam delivery and the overall feeling of panic that could only come from a global pandemic.


But today’s decision shows Trinity does understand – and students need to understand that the proposals do align with the spirit of their demands.

Today’s decision shows Trinity does understand – and students need to understand that the proposals do align with the spirit of their demands.

College may have rejected the no-detriment policy, but it has not just left it at that. Instead, students have been provided with a well thought out, flexible and compassionate set of contingencies, which acknowledges the difficulties that students are facing in the run-up to exams and provides solutions that recognise that this is not a case of one size fits all.

The email sent to students today explains why a no-detriment policy is not suitable given the nature of assessment in Trinity. Some have suggested it’s a case of not trying hard enough, but the detailed nature of what College has put in place shows it has indeed attempted to give students the closest thing to no detriment, save adopting no detriment.

From full-year modules to differing assessment procedures between departments, a no-detriment policy would’ve been difficult to implement cohesively across years and courses. But, whether through attentiveness or – more likely – student campaigning that made the policy impossible to ignore, Trinity has shown it is aware of the enormity of the problems many students are currently facing. This is far from business as usual, and today’s decision shows College knows it.

The measures outlined today ensure that every student will get as fair chance as is possible to do themselves justice in these assessments. Exam deferrals – usually a complex, excruciating procedure – are being taken on a basis of good faith, with students being trusted to defer if they feel they need to. And allowing students to resit the exams to improve an overall average after receiving grades is surely an unprecedented action that no one can argue is unfair.

For the first time since College closed students have too many options to contend with and not too few

Not every decision taken by College over the course of this crisis can be commended (students won’t forget the accommodation debacle in a hurry), but today’s decision was pedagogically and ethically sound. And, by explaining in an email to students why the no-detriment policy was not meant to be, Trinity demonstrated that its rejection wasn’t borne of badness, or laziness, but out of academic necessity.

Students may be confused about what they should opt for and the next steps to take with these new measures, but for the first time since College closed students have too many options to contend with and not too few. The extension of the assessment period to include the contingency weeks means that students have the time to consider their options and see what works best for them, given the ever-changing and evolving circumstances.

This is not the first time College has not given the students what they want. But instead of ignoring their concerns, it has taken them on board and found a middle ground that doesn’t do a disservice to any student nor cause any issue with implementation or continuity.

It’s a horrible time for students. But if today’s announcement wasn’t exactly the news they wanted to hear, then looked at more closely it’s a more rigorous, comprehensive and sound proposal.

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