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National approach needed to exams, assessment and ‘no detriment’ policies says NUS

Tuesday 14 April 2020

NUS (National Union of Students) is calling for a national approach to exams, assessment and ‘no detriment’ policies this year, following mixed responses from education institutions to student petitions for action.


While many institutions are responding positively to student concerns caused by the coronavirus outbreak and closure of their universities and colleges, a piecemeal approach to examinations means discrimination continues, with those already suffering attainment gaps shouldering further burdens.

Many universities have already announced a ‘no detriment’ policy, but some institutions are yet to settle on a ‘safety net’ for students, despite mounting evidence1 and acceptance of the uncertainty and increased hardship students are experiencing.

Speaking for students Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education) said: 

“Students across the UK are now uncertain of their futures. They face precarious living and working situations, new and increased caring responsibilities and the loss of existing support structures.

“Many students lack the required technology, working space and time to succeed, and those with existing childcare responsibilities will find this compounded with the closure of schools.

“Disabled students are particularly impacted. Those who already find examinations inaccessible face significant disadvantage in online examinations, where some reasonable adjustments cannot be accommodated. The most impacted are already the most disadvantaged. This makes no sense when there are solutions available to help them and all students. We really need responsible and compassionate leadership and support; it’s essential for all students.”    

The strength of feeling amongst all students on this issue is significant, with three in four students concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on their degree or course qualification2, with over two in three wanting more information and guidance from government on how their course or degree will be awarded and how this year’s work will be assessed3.

NUS has already set out its proposals for the cancellation of all nonessential exams, especially those for students who would progress within an institution for a further year of study. This is already the policy in many universities and welcomed, but while the bold leadership of these institutions is to be applauded, it begs the question why others are not applying the same approach.

The University of Exeter is one institute which has already made the decision to implement a ‘no detriment’ policy. Penny Dinh, Vice President Education, University of Exeter’s Students’ Guild explains why:

A ‘no detriment’ policy acts as a safety net to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far. Put simply, the grade students currently have is the lowest they can achieve.

“We believe that this is the best solution for both students and staff as we navigate through these difficult times. There are levels of protection in place for all students and an offer of flexibility for them to be able to decide their future.”

Ms Smith comments:

In education, we are most effective when we work together, and right now, students and staff in our institutions need all of us in the sector to work in a strong partnership to ensure that students are at the heart of solutions.

We know all students are put at a disadvantage because of the impact of COVID-19, and we know a piecemeal approach means discrimination and further disadvantage for those already suffering attainment gaps. 

“I’m sure no one in our institutions or government would want to impact these students further, particularly when there are solutions to hand that can alleviate these burdens, and when some institutions have already applied them voluntarily.

“Students really shouldn’t have to petition their institutions for fair treatment and assessments. Institutions and government must act to avoid further anxiety, uncertainty and discrimination. We need none essential exams cancelled and no detriment policies nationwide now.”


Notes to editors


NUS UK Press Office | | 07866 695 010 |

Policy | Hannah Sketchley |

The Letter to UUK has almost 40 supporting student’s unions who are currently advocating no-detriment policies and are in place within their institutes. These include:

Universities with ‘no detriment’ policies in place:

Angela Ruskin

University of Birmingham

University College Birmingham

University of Bristol

Cambridge University

University of Cambridge Graduates

City, University of London

University of Chester

De Montford University

University of East Anglia

Edinburgh University

University of Exeter


University of Hertfordshire

Lancaster University

Leeds Beckett

Leeds University

University of Liverpool

Liverpool Hope

Liverpool John Moore

London South Bank

University of Manchester

University of Northumbria

Oxford University

Queens’ University Belfast

Royal Northern College of Music

University of Sheffield

Sheffield Hallum


University of Strathclyde

Teeside University


Ulster University

University of Warwick


York University

York Graduate Union

York St John’s


  1. Scottish Government Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead speaking 8 April 2020 on the announcement of a £5million package of emergency financial support to university and college students facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. “We are ensuring students studying in Scotland should have access to emergency support should they be facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 or the social distancing and isolation measures that have been introduced. All bursaries, grants and loans are continuing to be paid as planned but the current unprecedented situation has resulted in increased hardship. That is why we are making extra funding immediately available for students most in need, to help alleviate concerns around accommodation costs, mental health issues, general living costs and wellbeing.
    1. Source NUS Insight: Students and Coronavirus Survey April 2020. This research, which involved nearly 10,000 students, was conducted with OneVoice and NUS members, and will be available in full week commencing 20 April.
    2. Source NUS Insight: Students and Coronavirus Survey April 2020.

NUS’ proposed options for final year assessments are as follows: 

  • Final year students can choose to complete and graduate with a grade given based on their prior attainment
  • Some final-year students may not feel that a grade based on their current performance will be an adequate reflection of their ability. If they want to graduate or complete their courses this academic year and want the opportunity to take an exam or submit a dissertation, they should be given this through a redesigned, open-book exam format or a flexible submission deadline. This should take place at home. We know that these exams will not reflect previous formats but should be used to assess learners on topics they have learnt about
  • Students who wish to, should have the option to extend their time in education to complete their degrees. This could mean deferring this term to take place in the Autumn. This should be at their own discretion and made possible through self-certification. It should absolutely be at no cost to the student, and further discussions should begin on the financial support available for students to do this.

About NUS UK

The National Union of Students (NUS) is a confederation of 600 student’s unions across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Through our members we represent, campaign on behalf of and support the interests of more than seven million students.

Working with more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education students’ unions across the UK our main purpose is to defend, promote and extend the rights of students to make a real difference to their educational experience. Our goal is a country where everyone can access and thrive in education regardless of their background, and a society where students are valued as active citizens.

Through our teams in NUS Services and NUS Charity we help member students’ unions develop and build effective students’ unions for all learners. Working with commercial partners, such as Endsleigh and OneVoice, we ensure students’ money is reinvested back in the student movement.