The SU’s ‘Study Well’ Initiatives – Genuine Support or Not Addressing the Real Issues?

In the last couple of weeks, the SU has put on its annual ‘Study Well’ program. This has involved a miniature petting zoo, free fruit, Study Well notepads and bottles, recipe cards, extra revision spaces and the usual exam skill workshops.

The point of these is to give students a helping hand during this stressful time. To an extent, these schemes have been holistic and a success. Not only through providing extra support in an engaging way but because students always love free stuff.

Hence, it can be suggested that ‘Study Well’ is another example of the proactive approach taken by our VP Welfare, and future SU President, Ahmed Mahbub, and Welfare Rep, and future VP Welfare, Ella Harvey. As well as the other SU Officers and Reps.

It is true that consistently throughout the year the pair have put on some great events and initiated change. From Ella’s informative and accessible SHAG (Sexual Health And Guidance) Week, which aimed to raise awareness about everything to do with, well… sex, relationships and everything that comes with them. Ahmed organised insightful guest speakers to discuss important issues, for example, mental health in South Asians, and securing £20k for the ‘Graduation Assistance Fund’. This aims to cut the costs for students who cannot afford all of the aspects of graduation.

And yet, although the policies of ‘Study Well’ are useful for a lot of students, and have clearly been instigated with good intentions, there is a big issue that needs addressing.

Realistically, if during exams your mental wellbeing is spiralling, you’re bereaving, or you have a physical health condition, petting a chicken for ten minutes or getting a free colourful notebook is not really going to change anything.

When I did my A-Levels I was struggling with some personal stuff; however, thankfully my college had an extenuating circumstances policy for exams. This meant I would sit the exam with my peers, but whoever marked my work would see I had EC, and therefore they were more lenient with marking, up to, as I roughly remember, 15%. It’s not like they’d just hand me marks – that would be unfair to my peers – but it was taken into consideration that my mind may not be totally in the room. I believe this is a fair policy. It meant I sat my exam with everyone else, so I didn’t feel singled out and end up stressing about taking my exams three months after leaving college, with the knowledge that although I may not perform perfectly, the marker would understand.

Until a few years ago QM had the 15% system. However, it now has a ‘fit-to-sit’ rule. In our handbooks it states:

The QMUL fit-to-sit policy applies to both exams and coursework. If you submit a piece of work or attend an exam, you are confirming your ability to do so.

  • If you feel you are unable to sit an exam or have been unable to revise for a prolonged period owing to Extenuating Circumstances, DO NOT ATTEND THE EXAMINATION. The ‘Fit to Sit’ rule means if you turn up to the exam room you are confirming that you are fully able to take the exam. Any mark you achieve will stand and the fact that you may have been underperforming due to illness will not be taken into account.

Applying for Extenuating Circumstances:

The ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ process requires the student to submit a form which explains the nature of their situation, the modules and assessments affected. The form must be accompanied by robust supporting documentary evidence relating directly to the affected period.

  • If you miss an exam, you MUST obtain documentary evidence to support the reason for non-attendance. For all kinds of illness or injury this must be an official doctor’s note to support your inability to take the exam. For all other circumstances, appropriate official documentation must be provided relating to the period concerned. NO CLAIMS CAN BE ACCEPTED WITHOUT PROPER OFFICIAL DOCUMENTATION. Many GP practices won’t issue notes confirming illness without the patient presenting with symptoms so students are strongly advised to see their GP as a matter of urgency.
  • The term ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ does NOT include pre-existing chronic mental or physical health conditions of which the student is already aware, but CAN include acute episodes or an unexpected increase in the severity of an existing condition. A student has to be able to prove with documentation that they experienced the sudden and unexpected onset of a condition that meant they did not feel able to sit an exam.

The Outcome of an Extenuating Circumstances Application

If Extenuating Circumstances are accepted as grounds for missed assessments, you will be given the opportunity to take the exam or submit coursework in the first two weeks of August 2018 as a ‘First Sit’. That means your work will be ‘uncapped’ (you can achieve the full range of marks) and it will be counted as your first attempt at the assessment. See Appendix I Progression Regulations.

Therefore, essentially if you turn up to your exam, you’re saying you’re totally fine, and if for whatever reason you are not 100%, and hence may underperform, your only option is to take your exam in August instead.

However, if you take this route, there are no extra workshops, and for people (like myself) who don’t live in London, resources and support are essentially not available. My tenancy at Albert Stern, a campus accommodation, ran out in June, so if I wanted to go to the library, meet with my seminar leaders (providing they’d be available out of term time), receive further assistance from QM and, crucially, attend my exam, I would have to pay the £36 train fare to and from London, and somehow find somewhere to stay.

Seems fair.

Unsurprisingly, for me, the August option was not an option. Thus, I had to take my exams in May. All that QM could offer me was one counselling session before, and that was mainly because I had received counselling throughout the year and had built a rapport with my councellor.

Some unis, for example, UWE, have recognised the unfairness and adverse impacts of this system and have got rid of their ‘fit-to-sit’ policy, and subsequently introduced a similar system that my college had.

I’m not saying this is the SU’s or Welfare’s fault. They have, as previously mentioned, achieved a lot this year. Fundamentally, this a management issue. However, at the same time, they’re meant to be our voice and help us get fair treatment.

Moreover, providing workshops, study space, and some free fruit, are basic things QM management SHOULD be giving everyone during exams. Let’s not forget, we’re paying £9K a year to the government for this. In the grand scheme of things, a free apple is a small consolation. I got all these, plus a game of rounders in the afternoon during my SATS. It should not be the responsibility of the SU to organise and fund fundamental things.

Students shouldn’t have to soldier on because QM wants to reduce costs and red tape.

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