Proposed Changes to Special Consideration Scrapped

23 April 2020
Farrago 2020 Edition 1 Cover

The University has elected not to pursue controversial changes to its special consideration policy that were proposed in September 2019.

According to former President of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), Molly Willmott, the changes included a ‘fit to sit’ rule, which would prevent students from applying for consideration after an assessment or exam is completed. For uncompleted exams and assessments, the University proposed a more strict enforcement of the requirement: that students submit supporting documentation within four business days.

According to Willmott, the University also proposed removing the ‘special on special’ provision, which allows students to apply for a second round of special consideration in extraordinary circumstances.

UMSU released a survey shortly after asking for students’ thoughts on the proposed changes. The survey recorded 2108 reponses, culminating in a submission by UMSU to the University’s Policy Network in October.

In December, UMSU President Hannah Buchan confirmed that the proposal to remove ‘special on specials’ and introduce a ‘fit to sit’ rule had been scrapped and would not be brought before the University’s Academic Board.

“The proposed changes to Special Consideration had a detrimental effect on student wellbeing and affected the accessibility of education for both undergraduate and postgraduate students”, Buchan said.

“It was a success for student feedback—thousands of people stepped up and got involved, which was absolutely integral to our success in blocking some of the proposed changes to Special Consideration.”

According to UMSU’s submission to the University’s Policy Network, 91 per cent of respondents called the proposed changes unfair. Students responded to each of the proposals on a scale ranging from “No Affect” to “It Would End Me”.

The removal of the special on special provision was the least popular change among the student body, with more than half of respondents selecting the “It Would End Me” option.

Two thirds of respondents said that they were concerned about the University’s proposal to tighten the special consideration timeframe, while 73 per cent were against the fit to sit rule.

One respondent to the survey said,

“The proposed changes simply [sic] do not consider the nuanced and complicated situation students can be in and are particularly unfair to neuro-diverse students, students with ongoing mental health issues and students in difficult home situations where their situation can change unexpectedly and have large impacts on their performance.”

According to the submission, a key reason for the University proposing the changes was the idea that students may be “gaming” the University’s policy by applying for special consideration in unwarranted circumstances—despite that “there is no evidence that supports this narrative.”

The submission concludes that “‘gaming the system’ or ‘safety net’ applications are both extreme and uncommon events, and the University appears to have foregrounded these issues as a convenient alternative to addressing the real needs of students.”

A spokesperson for the University did not confirm whether UMSU’s submission played a role in the changes being scrapped. “The special consideration policy reflects the feedback that was provided by all of the University’s stakeholders during the consideration period,” they said.

According to Buchan, “The University doesn’t always have students’ interests at heart, and the policies that they implement show this.”

“If we want the Academic Board to value student views we need to make student voices heard, and UMSU will always take the fight to the University.”


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