Protecting special consideration

Fia Hamid-Walker, 2019 GSA Education & Research Officer
Friday 25 October 2019

As GSA’s Education and Research Officer, I care about graduate students getting the support they need to succeed in their studies. That’s why I’ve been working to make sure special consideration policy and processes stay fair and equitable.

Background: Proposals that would harm special consideration

In September, the University proposed changes to the provisions for special consideration in the Assessment and Results Policy. These changes were said to be in light of concerns about the policy’s clarity, interpretation and application.

While clarity is important, two proposed changes are a real problem: first, the introduction of a “fit to sit” rule that would mean a student can’t apply for special consideration for an assessment they’ve completed, and second, the removal of the “special on special” provision that allows students in exceptionally challenging situations to apply for special consideration twice on one assessment.

I and my fellow councillors at GSA are gravely concerned about the impact these changes would have. Many graduate students experience challenges outside their control during their study, including chronic illness, disability, mental illness and family emergencies. The proposed changes threaten to make things harder for those most vulnerable.

What’s the University saying?

I attended the Academic Consultation and Coordination Committee (ACCC) meeting on Thursday 5 September, where these changes were briefly discussed. I asked about the rationale and evidence for the changes, and how the University would guarantee that the most vulnerable students would not be further disadvantaged, but was not satisfied by the committee’s response.

It seems part of the rationale is to alleviate the administrative burden on professional and academic staff. We know that staff at the University are under pressure, but it’s just unfair to shift the burden onto the most vulnerable students.

GSA’s response

GSA made a submission to the University on 11 October that addressed the systematic problems embedded in the proposed changes and centred the voices of graduate students.

Our submission emphasises the importance of special consideration in supporting student equity, our concern that the changes would disadvantage vulnerable students, and the need for the University to provide greater clarity, flexibility and support to students who are facing challenges.

GSA worked closely with UMSU in developing our submission, and I’m really proud of our collaboration. We all agree that the removal of the “special on special” provision and introduction of “fit to sit” is draconian, and the changes have no place in a University that aspires to be “top-flight”. Instead, the University should be supporting its graduate students to achieve their top-flight potential.

What happens next

The proposed policy changes will be debated at the Academic Board before the end of 2019. Until then, we will keep monitoring the situation and responding to them as we see necessary to ensure this new approach of special consideration will not be passed.