Degree Classifications Change in Response to COVID-19

The University of York detailed its response to COVID-19 in an email to taught postgraduate students.

Following the introduction of a “safety net” for undergraduate students, the University of York has announced measures that take into account the extreme circumstances affecting taught postgraduate students. In an email from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor John Robinson, updated definitions of the merit and distinction degree classifications are explained. The email emphasises that this is not a “safety net” but will still give a degree of support to taught postgraduates.

Following this announcement, the University will award a “distinction” to students who receive an average of 70% in either their taught modules or their Independent Study Module (ISM). Previously, an average of 70% was required in both taught modules and the ISM. Furthermore, students may still achieve the classification with up to 20 credits in modules that they fail at first attempt, provided that their mark is above 40%. Typically, no module failures are allowed.

The criteria for the classification of “merit” has been similarly adapted. Now, students who achieve an average over 60% in either their taught modules or their ISM will achieve the classification. This contrasts to the 60% average required in both aspects previously. Additionally, students will be able to receive a merit with up to 40 credits of modules provided no more than 20 credits of these modules have a mark below 40%.

These measures will not apply to York Online Courses or HYMS masters courses at present. In the latter case, the University are still “working to determine whether it can apply” to those courses. Noticeably, there are no changes in the boundary of a “pass” degree which is awarded to those who achieve a degree average above 50% but do not meet the criteria for a merit or distinction.

This announcement follows a petition created by postgraduate students at the University of York calling for the introduction of a “safety net” following the announcement that postgraduate students would not receive the same treatment as undergraduates. It has received over 1,300 signatures since its creation on the 3rd of April. Since the announcement, the petition has ended with the creator of the petition declaring “Victory!”.

However, the outlined approach does not satisfy the aims specified in the petition. Chiefly, it is not “equivalent to what has been offered to Undergraduate students”; it does not guarantee postgraduate students a final mark at least as high as what they currently possess.

Following the announcement, the President of the Graduate Students’ Association Pürnur Altay gave the following comment to Vision, “This issue created a lot of heated discussions between GSA and the University for PGT students’ rights. The lack of standards across departments created difficulties for the University to apply safety net in the first place. I am very proud of this student-led campaign and being a part of it. It shows us once again that we are more powerful together! I will continue to campaign on additional support for PG students and when C-19 ends l will continue to work with the University to have a more standardised system so that we will not see similar problems in the future.”