Change Aberystwyth University’s late submission policy

SILLY little mistakes, everyone makes them. Whether it’s saying the wrong thing to that girl you like or not changing the batteries in your alarm and turning up late for work, those silly little mistakes are part of everyday life here on planet Earth. Most of us realise this and can let an honest mistake go when we can see that is exactly that – honest.

This is everyday logic that I certainly did not witness when I read an e-mail at the end of the summer telling me of this University’s new, institution-wide “zero tolerance” submission policy.

I’m sure by now that you are all aware of this policy, but in case you’ve been living in Y Not for the past few months, the new policy says that any assessment submitted past the deadline will get a big, fat zero unless it falls under the “exceptional circumstances” criteria. Previous (and logical) systems included the system of the International Politics department whereby late submissions would have marks deducted accumulatively depending on how late the submission was.

Some departments, such as IBERS, have had this policy, or at least one similar to it, since time immemorial, and some have only implemented it this year. One thing, however, appears to be almost universal among the under-graduates, post-graduates, PhD students and members of staff I have spoken to about this issue: it is a stupid policy!

This policy allows silly little mistakes and unforeseen circumstances that are not deemed “exceptional” by arbitrary criteria to grossly affect the outcome of students’ degrees. I encourage you to pause for a couple of seconds and think of a few circumstances that the university does not deem “exceptional” but that could cause a perfectly good student to miss a deadline.

For example, I introduce Vince. He’s got some 2:1s and some 2:2s. Overall he’s set to get a final grade for his degree of 2:2. Vince has finished an assignment and is ready to hand it in when suddenly, disaster! He spills coffee on his laptop and the data is rendered irretrievable. He hasn’t got time to redo his assignment and is thus given a zero. The result of this zero is that he ends up failing his degree, a degree that Aberystwyth University now charges no less than a cool £27,000 for. Under a system such as that of the InterPol department last year, he could have scraped something together and, even if he had only just passed, still avoided getting a zero and thus possibly avoiding wasting a colossal amount of money.

Upon questioning the Vice Chancellor, April McMahon, on this issue during her visit to answer questions in front of the Student Assembly, I was given less than satisfactory justifications. Those reasons I did manage to tease out, however, can be summarised thus:

  1.  It is not fair to have different submission policies in different departments.
  2.  The new policy will lead to more students meeting deadlines.
  3.  It will prepare students for employment in the real world where they will no doubt have deadlines to meet.

Where do I start?

  1. If you are going to introduce a University-wide policy, for the love of God, make it a logical one. Perhaps no one has had the balls to tell IBERS and the other departments with draconian policies where to stick it, but please don’t lump the rest of the University with a system that punishes students for being human.
  2. Yes, the policy has no doubt led to more students meeting deadlines, but at what cost? One tutor has  informed me that he would rather an essay late and well written than on time and rushed. One might counter this with “students see it as an extension of the deadline”. Yes. But rubbish students will always be rubbish students. What a logical, accumulative system allows for, however, is for innocent situations such as Vince’s to not have as drastic of an impact on a student’s degree.
  3. This one is my favourite. I have two points that sum up the idiocy of this justification: a) Messing up on one job will not stay with someone for their whole life. Even if they get fired, they will look for another job. But for most of us, this is the only chance we will have to get a degree. And b) In the working world I do not pay my boss’ wage! This university is providing us with a service that we are paying for and we thus do not deserve to submitted to irresponsible and destructive policies that can take away our future in one foul swoop of misfortune.

This policy also assumes a position of the commodification of education. While we cannot escape the realities of the capitalist world, it would be a damned shame to reduce education to such a level of merely being a means to employment. If I rush an essay to avoid getting a zero, what have I learnt?

Student politics is in a sorry state in the UK. We may not be able to reverse the government’s education policies by marching to Kennington Park, but surely the students and staff of Aberystwyth University can force a U-turn on a damned stupid idea.

Thus, I ask that you sign the petition which has been created. Petitions are not the be-all and end-all and this is not a Kony2012 world where a like on Facebook changes the world, but if we show the powers that be that we mean business, we can change this ridiculous policy.

If you are interested in getting involved with further campaigning on this issue, or have had a bad experience with draconian submissions policies (new or old), contact me at [email protected]