Editorial: LSE must adopt a non-detriment safety net

A non-detriment system would set a minimum baseline grade below which no student can fall, allowing for a truly compassionate approach to assessment during these challenging times.

Over the past week, The Beaver’s reporting has shown the impact Covid-19 is having on our community. Students are clamoring for more protection and home inequalities are being exacerbated by the challenging times faced by the LSE community and wider world. Students are falling ill, losing family members, living under lockdown, and experiencing challenges never before faced. 

The Beaver appreciates the unprecedented efforts being made by all academic and professional staff. It has been truly inspiring to see how most of the community has not only stuck together, but also gone above and beyond to help, improvise, and come up with innovative solutions to these new challenges. Despite LSE’s massive efforts to provide alternative assessment in the least disruptive way possible, we simply do not see how students can be expected to perform as if nothing else is going on outside their rooms. 

More is required to promote fairness across departments and personal circumstances, and to ensure that LSE’s most vulnerable students are not left behind. LSE must implement a non-detriment, universal-pass system for the 2019-20 examination period.

In an email to students, Pro-Director for Education Dilly Fung attempted to assuage concerns by explaining that the exam board will have “the opportunity to exercise discretion for all students at the time of making final classification decisions to account for COVID-19 related disruptions.” Adding that “marks will be reviewed overall with this year’s events very much in mind, and with compassion.” 

This leads us to ask: if the exam board will be adapting grades regardless, why not communicate this to students with a clearly defined policy that explains an otherwise opaque process of grade-adaption? These are not times for business as usual.  

Assessment is usually taken under difficult circumstances, and driven LSE students do not expect to be spoon-fed achievements. However, there’s an ocean of difference between a challenging academic environment and the challenges manifested in a global pandemic. LSE faces a unique circumstance: our 70% international student body began to disperse around the globe after LSE went digital – The Beaver itself is working across seven time-zones. LSE must not only accommodate for challenging assessment contexts in the UK, but a disparate set of conditions: students around the globe face differing levels of pandemic response, restrictions on movement, provision of basic services, and even internet access. 

Even with modified examinations taking place over longer time periods and the possibility to defer exams to late summer, we do not see how LSE can expect that all students will be able to face their assessments equally over the summer period. Working-class students, those with care duties, those with mental or physical health challenges, and students without stable access to technology or uncensored internet will be particularly poorly served by LSE’s current approach. We are also concerned about the potential for inequalities in the differential examination approaches adopted by departments around the School, which in some cases present students with vastly different expectations and time-scales.

Recognising this unprecedented challenge means that further accommodations must be made: a no-detriment policy, ensuring that students cannot do worse than their average performance on their previous year of study, will guarantee students the opportunity to outperform themselves, whilst those who face harsher obstacles are not punished for their decision to take assessments despite the circumstances. For first-years, General Course students, and others without grade history at LSE, universal pass should act as this baseline.

LSE would not be alone in taking these steps. Cambridge has endorsed the ‘safety net’ principle, matching similar policies at Durham, Warwick, Exeter, and Edinburgh, among others. Taking further steps to protect students at this stage would not make LSE look uncoordinated or weak: instead, it would demonstrate that the School is actively engaged with its student body, and willing to make fair adjustments to match the needs of its students during this unprecedented time. 

This year, it has become obvious to this Editorial Board that school authorities often see The Beaver as more a disturbance than anything else. Director Shafik herself told an editor to “educate yourself” and, in a town hall, dismissed our reporting on LSE’s cleaners, saying  “not everything you read in The Beaver is true.” This is not the time for further dismissals of student voices. If you do not trust The Beaver, trust the LSESU Sabbatical Officers, the students who signed petitions, the meme pages and Facebook posts, the students who reached out to us as sources, the professors who have voiced similar concerns, and the wider community of higher education providers who have taken these steps

This is a simple, legal, and achievable policy. The message to students should be the following: Do your best, what you cannot control won’t harm you. 

The Beaver Editorial Board and Team 

Morgan FairlessExecutive EditorPolitics and Philosophy, final year 
Lucy KnightBeaver Editor and incoming Executive EditorPolitics, 2nd year 
Christina IveyFlipside EditorPolitics and International Relations, final year
Yasmina O’SullivanMultimedia Editor, incoming Features EditorPolitics, 2nd year
Ross LloydEditorial AssistantGovernment and History, final year 
James BoucherManaging Editor, incoming Managing EditorPPE, 3rd year
Colin VanelliFeatures Editor, incoming Beaver EditorHistory and International Relations, 2nd year
Raphaelle CamarcatNews Staff WriterInternational Relations & History, 2nd year
Zehra JafreeReview Editor, incoming Flipside Editor IR and History, 2nd year
Grace ChapmanComment editor, incoming Part B editorInternational History, 2nd year
Ash Layo Masing Deputy Multimedia Editor Sociology, 3rd Year
Marianne HiiFeatures Editor, incoming Features Editor    PPE, 2nd year 
Sagal Mohamed     Staff Writer for Comment PPE, 2nd year
Christiana Ajai-ThomasComment Deputy Editor, incoming Comment EditorSociology, 2nd year
Annabelle JarrettFeatures EditorInternational History, postgraduate
Rhea MalviyaStaff Writer and Contributor for News/FeaturesISPP, Postgrad
Gustav HagildComment EditorMSc Comparative Politics 
Molly HornerReview Deputy Editor, incoming Review EditorPolitics and History, 2nd Year
Emma de CarvalhoMultimedia EditorSociology, 3rd Year
Beatriz Silva Beaver Sound and News Staff Writer International Relations, 1st Year
Seth RiceSport EditorSocial Anthropology, 2nd yr
Laura ZampiniNews EditorInternational Relations, 2nd Year
Gabrielle SngSport Editor, incoming Comment EditorLaw LLB, 2nd Year
Michael Shapland Comment EditorGovernment and Economics, 2nd Year
Angbeen AbbasNews staff writer and incoming Podcast EditorSociology, first year.
Ellie ReevesIncoming Multimedia Editor History, 2nd year

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