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The University of Southampton
Coronavirus

Teaching, studying and assessment

This page was last updated on: 01/04/2021

The Government has asked universities to take action in light of the evolving COVID-19 situation, and in response to Government guidance, we have changed our previous plans regarding student return to campuses for in-person teaching. Further programme specific information will be communicated after 12 April.

Please know our staff are here to support you with your online studies and help you to succeed.

We know students may have questions about this and have included frequently asked questions below.

Teaching and study

Find out more about how we're minimising potential disruption in teaching and study.

Can I get a refund on tuition fees?

We are not planning to offer refunds of fees to students, although the University recognises how different this year has been and the difficult choices we have all had to make. 

There are a number of reasons for not taking a blanket position, given we have a well-established and rigorous procedure for any student who wishes to f make a complaint. 

The effect of the changes we have made will have personal implications for each student and individual course circumstances which need to be examined. 

We have been led by the need to keep our students and staff safe, and have followed prevailing Government guidance and public health advice. We recognise that the experience of our students over the last year has been very significantly affected by the public health crisis in which we have all been living and working. 

We have been determined to ensure that, despite this, our students have been supported to allow them to meet the learning outcomes of their programmes of study, and to progress through those programmes. 

In the case of finalists, our approach has been to ensure that they complete and graduate with an award that is recognised worldwide as valuable and will continue to hold its value in years to come.  

To continue delivering education to our students, staff across the University have worked tirelessly to ensure access to high-quality teaching, often having to adapt at short notice to a blend of in-person and on-line education.  

All our programmes of study, and the services which tuition fees fund – including libraries, Enabling Services and the Employability and Careers Services - have been adapted and remain available to students. For these services to continue to be available as best as possible we have invested significantly to increase our digital offering. 

We have invested in a whole range of other  facilities such as increasing and enhancing our online education, temporary buildings to maximise in-person teaching and study where that has been possible, enhanced cleaning regimes and other safety measures. 

We have also invested new money in over £500,000 in online learning grants to students to ensure that those who need support to access their learning get it. In order to deliver this programme of investment in the education of our students we have had to take the decision to operate with a deficit budget this year.

Offering blanket refunds of fees to students would mean that we would have no option but to cut the services that we have been pleased to be able to offer. Any such cut would further affect the student experience directly and immediately. 

In short, we acknowledge that the experience of our students over the last year has been very different from that of students in previous years. However, we have done our utmost to ensure that ‘different’ does not mean, in terms of education, ‘worse’.

If there are cases where particular students feel we have not succeeded sufficiently we would note that there is a route to follow. 

The independence of this process can ultimately lead to engagement with the Office for the Independent Adjudicator, which has  the authority to ask universities to make financial compensation to students.

I do not wish to return to campus for the rest of this academic year. Will I receive an equivalent learning experience if I'm learning online?

We think it is important to distinguish between students who are unable to return to campus to engage with in-person teaching and students who do not wish to do so.

With regard to the latter, we have been clear that we do not (with a very few exceptions) offer distance-learning programmes, and that we expect our students to be available to engage with teaching on-campus as and when we are able to provide it.

We have always been clear that we want to get students back to in-person teaching and learning as soon as it is safe to do so because we understand the benefits that brings and because so many of our students have told us that that is what they want.

As indicated above we have invested significantly in safety measures including provision for weekly testing, appropriate face coverings, carefully managing numbers to ensure social distancing, and the addition of new space to enable safe social distancing during teaching sessions. We believe that these measures mean that students can come back to the University with confidence.

With regards to students who are unable to return to campus to engage with in-person teaching, we will – as we would in any year – endeavour to support them and to make appropriate reasonable adjustments in individual cases. However, we cannot (and nor could any university) guarantee ‘an exactly equivalent learning experience’ for students in this position, any more than we could in any other year.

Students who are on campus engaging with other students and their lecturers will have opportunities that students who are not on campus will not have.

We would also want students to benefit from the wider facilities that we are making safely available on campus. That said again, we will of course make every effort to support students who are unable to return to campus for good reason. 

On what instances am I allowed to return to campus? Will I be allowed to come to campus to study this academic year?

If you are an undergraduate student in Medicine or in the School of Health Sciences, or a PGCE student in the School of Education, your on-campus teaching and/or placements will proceed according to the plans you were expecting.

In-person teaching and learning for students who are studying practical or practice-based subjects (including creative arts) and require specialist equipment and facilities recommenced from 8 March. We are awaiting further guidance from Government regarding other programmes.

Government guidance advises that wherever possible students should remain where they are and not return to campus and/or halls of residence until in-person on-campus teaching resumes.

The continued safety of those who are spending time on campus continues to be our highest priority. We are continuously reviewing the situation and will inform students when they can return to campus.

Students are expected to follow testing guidance and all other COVID-secure behaviours set out in our Code of Conduct. This is to ensure we maintain a COVID-secure University, helping to keep everyone safe from infection.

You may need to return earlier if you need support, or if you need to access IT equipment, library facilities or other facilities on campuses.

If you require access to study facilities, regardless of your course, you can use the Libraries, Building 100 and any other spaces that are open. Please ensure you stay safe while using these facilities by wearing a face covering, cleaning down surfaces and maintaining physical distance from others. You can find out what study spaces are available including booking spaces, where required, on this webpage.

If students need to access support, we encourage them to get in touch with our 24/7 Student Support Hub using the details below. If a student needs to access support face-to-face, the Student Services Centre is open for students to visit between 10:00 and 16:00, Monday to Friday. Please note, we have a number of safety measures in place for you to be aware of when visiting the Student Services Centre. Find out more here.

I am a student going on / already on placement. Can I still take part in my placement?

If you are a student on a placement, we would advise you to contact your School Office regarding further details from 12 April 2021.

How is the University supporting disabled students who are impacted by the pandemic?

Enabling Services continues to support students in relation to their disability, including wellbeing and mental health, long term health conditions and Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), such as dyslexia.  Students with a diagnosis are supported through recommended reasonable adjustments, including AERs, as well as ongoing support as appropriate; a range of specialist interventions are also offered, including wellbeing support, counselling and specialist study skills.  All student appointments continue to be offered online (and in person for reasons related to disability or circumstance, where this can be managed safely).

Whilst every effort is made to monitor and support students on an ongoing basis, students who consider themselves to be ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ are encouraged to contact Enabling Services to review their circumstances and discuss their support needs. Please be aware that you will be asked for a copy of the letter you have received from the government that confirms your clinically vulnerable status, when the team responds to your enquiry

Any students who are adversely impacted by the pandemic in relation to their studies or wellbeing are encouraged to contact Enabling Services for support, advice and guidance.

Enabling Services continues to collaborate with teams across the University on an ongoing basis to ensure appropriate support is in place for:

  • Students who might be considered at risk to themselves or others
  • Disabled students with complex needs and/or may have previously shielded
  • Students about whom concerns have been raised in relation to their health or well-being.

If you would like to contact Enabling Services, please email enable@soton.ac.uk. To speak to a member of the team, call 023 8059 9599 and press option 3.

What will happen with graduation?

Given the current circumstances, we regret that Graduation will not be taking place in July and has been postponed until further notice. We know this will be a huge disappointment to students, their friends and family as it is for all of us at the University.
 
We understand the importance of the degree ceremony and thoroughly enjoy celebrating with all our students. We plan to invite students to online celebrations in late summer or autumn and will confirm this as soon as we can.

We will do all that we can to celebrate student's achievement this summer, but we will also plan to invite students to a future Graduation ceremony to properly celebrate their success as soon as it is safe to do so.

Students will be contacted directly via email by the Graduation Team with further details as the situation evolves.

When will I know more about when in-person on-campus teaching will resume?

We are continuously reviewing the situation and will update students with further details as soon as we know more. 

Assessments, coursework, special considerations and extensions

Find out how assessment might be affected, and the measures we've put in place to help reduce disruption.

Will the University be operating a ‘No Detriment’ policy for this academic year?

During the second semester of last academic year, the University had to respond very rapidly to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of the first ‘lockdown’ period. As part of that response, we put in place significant changes to assessment and methods of calculating assessment outcomes for students.

As we had to deviate so rapidly and extensively from what we had planned and from what students had been expecting, we (like many other universities) introduced a number of emergency measures. These included a ‘no detriment’ commitment designed to reassure students that (so long as they engaged with required work) they would not end the 2019-20 academic year in a worse position than that achieved prior to the pandemic.

We have learned a lot since last March, and we have designed our teaching and our assessment for this academic year with awareness of the impact of the pandemic uppermost in our minds.  Circumstances continue to be challenging for both students and staff, of course, but for this year we have been able to plan with an understanding of those challenges, which means that we hope to avoid taking any disruptive emergency-measures.

 As a result, we, like other Russell Group universities, do not plan to operate a ‘No Detriment’ policy for this academic year.  However, all students graduating this year – or next year for Integrated Masters students – will have the ‘No Detriment’ position of the 2019-20 academic year applied to that year of study when it comes to calculating their degree outcome. 

What measures did the University put in place to reduce the impact of any disruption on students’ preparation for and performance in semester one assessments?

We have put in place a number of measures designed to help you manage your particular circumstances and reduce the impact of any disruption (COVID-19-related or otherwise) on your preparation for and performance in assessments.

We have designed these measures to be flexible and easily accessible so that, if things are not going well, you can tell us as simply and straightforwardly as possible. This will help us, both to provide support, and to ensure that we understand the impact of any disruption on your preparation for and performance in assessments.

As usual, advice and support is available from your Personal Academic Tutor (PAT), and from Senior Tutors and the SUSU Advice Centre. Not sure who your PAT is? Check Banner Self-Service to find out.

Will I be asked to attend campus for in-person teaching or in-person exams?

We have received no further guidance from the Government regarding students on programmes that do not have a practical element being able to return to study in-person and on-campus.

As a result, and until such time as we receive further information, we are assuming that the previous guidance remains in place and on that basis your teaching will continue to be online only: please continue to engage with your course in the same way that you have been since January 2021.

I need to ask for an extension for a coursework deadline. How do I do that?

You need to complete an extension request form and send it to your School’s Student Office. You should do this before the original deadline. We are not asking for any supporting evidence from you, just a note of the affected assessments.

Will my extension be approved?

If you tell us that your request is as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, either directly (eg due to self-isolation, you receiving a positive test etc) or indirectly (less than ideal working conditions, reduced access to resources etc), and you are asking for an extension of up to 14 days, then approval is automatic; you don’t need to wait for confirmation from us.

If you need more than 14 days or your extension is not due to an effect of the pandemic, we still don’t need you to provide supporting evidence, but you do need to have your request approved, so for longer extensions or non-COVID-19 requests, please ask as early as possible before the original deadline. 

In these cases, we also ask for a brief statement where you will need to explain why you are asking for the extension. This is so we can monitor student welfare and consider whether further mitigation is needed for situations we are hearing are affecting a lot of students.

Can I have an extension for an assessment in the final assessment period?

The assessments in the final assessment period for each semester have mostly been designed as a replacement for a traditional exam. As for an exam, there are no deadline extensions for this kind of assessment.

There are a small number of other assessments that will be submitted during that period which are considered as coursework and some of those may be eligible for deadline extensions. Your module tutors will be able to give you more information with regards to any particular assessment.

Who can ask for special consideration?

You can ask for special consideration if you are ill, but also if a close family member is ill and that affects your studies. You can also ask for special consideration for the effect of bereavement – death of a close relative/friend/significant other. However, special consideration doesn’t only cover illness and bereavement.

This year, the special consideration category: significant adverse personal/family circumstances, would cover the impact of other things we know are a problem for many of you at the moment such as: unexpected or additional caring duties for family members; less than ideal physical working environments; the need to share IT with others in your household; poor WIFI connectivity; prolonged low mood, depression or anxiety as result of COVID-19.

This is not an exhaustive list so if you are not sure whether your circumstances would be eligible for special consideration, you are invited to speak to your Personal Academic Tutor (PAT), your School’s Senior Tutor or your Programme Lead. You can also obtain impartial and free advice from the Students’ Union Advice Centre.

What if I mostly have coursework assessments?

As with other types of assessments, we know your work may be disrupted by your working environment, by stress and anxiety or by other difficult personal circumstances. You can use the special consideration process to tell us about this as well. It’s not just for final assessments

Where is the special consideration request form?

If your request relates to the effect of the pandemic, you should use the form here.

Requests not related to the pandemic should be made on this form.

Do I need to provide independent evidence of what happened?

No - we know that accessing GPs, counsellors and other professional support services can be difficult at the moment, and we also understand that some kinds of problems you face due to the pandemic may affect your ability to study but can’t easily be supported by evidence, therefore we have removed the requirement to provide evidence to support your request for special consideration.

This applies to requests whether they are related to the pandemic or not. You now simply have to write a short description of how your study and/or assessment has been adversely affected.

What can the Special Consideration Board do to help me?

Special Consideration Boards look at both your circumstances and your marks. If they can identify a negative effect on your academic performance in the affected assessments, they can make recommendations to the Board of Examiners that you should be offered mitigation. The mitigations they can recommend include:

  • Waiving a late penalty 
  • Extending a deadline for a final assessment 
  • Permitting an uncapped referral/resit 
  • Permitting an additional referral/resit 
  • Disregarding a mark(s) when making a progression recommendation 
  • Disregarding a mark(s) when making a classification recommendation 
  • Varying the weighting of parts for classification 
  • Allowing you to defer your assessment to a later date

The Special Consideration Board recommendations aim to ensure you are ready for the next level of study and that your final award meets y expectations in terms of academic standards.   Sometimes this means they need to ask you to take an assessment again later in the year to make sure you have met all the learning outcomes.


Read the general guidance on special consideration for more information.

How will the Board of Examiners consider module marks this year?

We know that some modules, and all the students registered on those modules, are more affected when access to the campus changes. To ensure we maintain the standard of your degree and its value to you, the Boards of Examiners will compare cohort performance in the current year with the typical performance of previous years.

They will be especially careful when undertaking this process to ensure that the changes to assessment style and process are properly accounted for. Our scaling policy allows the Boards of Examiners to adjust module marks profiles for a whole student cohort where we can see they fall substantially out of line with expectations.

Normally Schools are required to notify students, via approved wording in their programme documentation, if they plan to implement the scaling policy. This year, to ensure your academic performance is appropriately recognised, we are letting you know now that we are changing our policy so that the marks for any module may be scaled if the Board of Examiners decides that is in the best interests of the students.

If marks for one of your modules have been scaled, you will always be notified about the scaling and the reasons for it after the Board of Examiners has met. 

I’m a Medicine student, what is happening with my exams?

If you are studying Medicine, you may be taking a formal exam on campus. In this case you will see information under the 'location' column. We have shared more details about the rooms, including giving you a seat number ahead of your exams. 

How will my degree class be calculated this year?

Every student graduating in 2020/21 will have their degree classification individually considered by the Board of Examiners. This will involve looking at the final average and your whole marks profile to ensure that any clear discrepancies in module-by-module performance, that might be linked to the stress and disruption of the pandemic, are considered when classifying your degree.

The Boards of Examiners will be especially careful in their consideration of marks from 2019/20 where Part averages were not calculated by the usual process due to cancelled or revised assessments in Semester 2.

How can you be sure you will maintain academic standards this year?

All decisions for finalists and for continuing students made by the Board of Examiners will be overseen by our External Examiners to ensure that the classification you receive continues to meet national expectations and retains its value.

External Examiners are experienced members of academic staff from other universities with the same expectations for quality and standards and are part of the national process for moderating award classifications and progression decisions.

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