ICYMI: COVID-19 Subject Scores to Still Appear on Student Transcripts

8 December 2020

Students studying during the COVID-19 pandemic have been drawn into a false sense of security by the University’s revised Weighted Average Mark (WAM) calculation system. 

Introduced earlier this year, the system acknowledges that students may be academically disadvantaged during the pandemic, but still makes them bear individual subject scores on their transcript.

The current WAM amnesty arrangement for University of Melbourne students—which ensures that students won’t suffer from a lowered WAM mark due to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic this year—fails to consider the possible repercussions of featuring these subject scores on the student’s academic transcript. This makes all the difference for students when applying for jobs and positions in the long term.

Normally, having a higher WAM score is favourable for students when applying for jobs, internships, and other graduate programs. However, the University’s policy risks putting students at a competitive disadvantage, with the inclusion of COVID-19 subject scores alongside the WAM recorded on their transcript. The presence of low scores (or even failed subjects) on an academic record could lead employers to think that a student’s WAM is a non-accurate indicator of their academic performance.

The University’s solution to explaining COVID-19 grades and the revised WAM calculation is to flag non-included transcript scores with a “^” sign. This is followed by an additional comment outlining a recognition of the pandemic’s impact on academic scores. According to the University’s website, prospective employers and accreditation organisations are encouraged to visit the website to gain a better understanding of the “^” system. 

An issue with this approach is that it assumes employers will actively take the time to understand this University’s WAM policy and be sympathetic about undesirable raw scores. It ignores the possibility that third parties might instead dismiss an individual’s eligibility based on such scores, and favour more appealing applications from other competitors. 

The University’s WAM amnesty arrangement differs from the academic amnesties being granted to students at other Victorian universities, creating an unlevel playing field when applying for jobs, graduate programs and internship opportunities. Monash University allows students to choose between showcasing their scores or opting for a Satisfied Faculty Requirements (SFR) grade, however Melbourne University offers no such academic relief. Moreover, La Trobe University has ensured that fail marks will not affect a student’s prospects—these transcripts will state that no result had been recorded due to “extenuating circumstances”.

The University did not respond to Farrago’s questions about why it had elected for this WAM amnesty arrangement as opposed to the ones offered by other universities, nor did it address criticisms about how such arrangements could impact students. Instead, a spokesperson told Farrago:

“The University of Melbourne’s treatment of the WAM to reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has been designed not to disadvantage any student. All marks appear on the student’s transcript—those included and excluded in the WAM—as a complete record of the student’s studies at the University of Melbourne. The transcript includes an explanatory comment to clarify these grades and the revised WAM calculation method in 2020 to prospective employers, accreditation bodies or other third parties, who recognised the value of a University of Melbourne degree.”

As the end of the semester draws to a close, the impact of the University’s WAM arrangement will soon be seen. 

Farrago will continue to follow this story.

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