Apr 8, 2020

Trinity to Reject ‘Unworkable’ No Detriment, But Offer Backup Options

Council will today be asked to approve six alternative measures that Trinity says will ‘substantially mitigate the difficulties faced by students’.

Donal MacNameeEditor

Trinity will not implement a no-detriment policy – which it has called “unworkable” – in this year’s summer assessments, proposing instead a raft of alternative measures for students whose exam performance is compromised by the coronavirus pandemic, The University Times has learned.

University Council will today be asked to approve several measures contained in a confidential memorandum – obtained by The University Times – that says a no-detriment policy called for by thousands of students “is not applicable or workable” for Irish universities.

College is instead proposing six options for summer assessments – including allowing students to resit modules even if they’ve passed them, or to retrospectively defer assessments if they feel their performance has been affected – which it says “should achieve mitigation against possible negative effects on students’ academic performance”.


Trinity will also allow students to pass the year, no matter how many modules they fail, as long as their overall mark is over 40 per cent.

Council will be told – in a presentation from Senior Lecturer Kevin Mitchell, Vice-Provost Jurgen Barkhoff and Dean of Graduate Studies Neville Cox – that “an ‘upward only’ marking relative to past performance could not work” due to the complexities of assessment methods across College’s courses.

Trinity’s Exam Proposals – the Lowdown

Trinity says the proposal – demanded by students across the country in recent weeks – won’t work because the College “does not have a past performance mark in all cases”, and because of the “wide disparity” in the number of credits students on different courses have completed before their summer assessments.

Instead, it will allow students to defer – both before and after they’ve sat assessments – without having to provide evidence of compromising circumstances, and will instruct boards of examiners “to use their powers of discretion with greater latitude than normal”.

Trinity also proposes allowing students to resit modules even if they’ve passed them, “in order to improve their grade”, as well as pointing out on academic transcripts the modules students’ take during the current crisis.

Catherine O’Mahony, a Trinity media relations officer, wrote in an email statement to The University Times that in “relation to the ‘no detriment’ request put forward by some students, of which Trinity is aware, the College believes that the measures to be discussed at today’s University Council offer the best way to offset the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, in a manner compatible with its progression and award regulations and assessment practices”.

The document says that “we recognise that students are facing extremely stressful and difficult circumstances and that this may impact on their ability to study, complete assignments, and perform up to their normal level in exams”.

It says that the idea of the no-detriment policy “is that no student should be disadvantaged at the point of assessment as a result of the new assessment procedures necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“Our undertaking”, the document continues, “is that we will aim to ensure this, in a way that is compatible with Trinity’s award regulations and assessment practices that have been used up to this point in time”.

But it says a no-detriment policy “could not work as we do not have a past performance mark in all cases” for students, and adds that the disparity in how many credits students have completed “means that a single arithmetic formula or standardised benchmark would not be fair and consistent across all students”.

Students who want to defer assignments or essays until Trinity’s re-assessment period will be able do so “with no questions asked”, thanks to an “honour system” College is proposing.

Students can apply for deferrals even if they’ve sat some assessments – but before the release of marks – if they find “they have been unable to complete them or perform as they would have expected due to their personal circumstances”. Deferrals – even those requested retrospectively – will be marked as a first attempt on students’ academic transcripts.

But students must defer all modules that take place after the date on which they ask for a deferral of a particular module.

Students who decide they want to resit modules they’ve passed can apply to do so in the re-assessment session “in order to improve their grade”, the document says.

But this option is only open to students whose grades count towards their degree. Students will sit the modules in the form they’re taking as a result of the alterations to assessments.

An alteration to the pass by compensation system means that “a student’s progression would not be denied due to modules failed under the current situation, so long as they meet the pass mark overall”.

Trinity is also proposing to “mark on student’s transcripts any modules that were taken in the time of the Covid-19 crisis”, a move it says “will flag the exceptional mitigating circumstances to any prospective employers”.

The document adds: “We feel this set of measures, which all work within our current systems, would collectively recognise and substantially mitigate the difficulties faced by students, ensure the minimal impact on the crisis on progression, and allow students who feel disadvantaged in the grades they have achieved a second shot at the assessment.”

“In relation to the ‘no detriment’ request, we believe that the measures we propose offer the best safety net against the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, in a manner compatible with our progression and award regulations and assessment practices.”

Last week, Mitchell told students that online and offline exams – as well as assessments in some cases – will replace in-person exams.

Exams will take place between April 27th and May 9th, while assignments will be handed in between May 11th and May 15th, Mitchell told students in an email.

Schools will decide what constitutes an exam and what constitutes an assessment, and will set deadlines accordingly.

In an email to students, Mitchell wrote: “These plans are designed to allow you all to complete your studies for this semester and either graduate or progress to your next year of studies. We recognise the very challenging and stressful circumstances that many of you are facing and want to assure you that they are being taken into account in the design and marking of the assessments.”

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