By Eloise Sacares and Chloe Coules
According to the University policy, Individual Mitigating Circumstances are “descriptions of conditions which temporarily prevent a student from undertaking assessment or significantly impair the student’s performance in assessment”. If a student has an IMC, they can make a claim to delay an assessment (coursework or exam). IMCs are a great policy in concept, however, a look at the University policy quickly exposes gaping flaws in the system. Many events which could be seriously disruptive to a student’s ability to complete an assessment, such as financial difficulties and failure of IT equipment, are put in the section of “events & conditions not normally acceptable as IMCs”. Long term illnesses are also placed in this section, which is seriously concerning for students with chronic illnesses or mental health conditions that can flare up frequently; this is the situation Molly finds herself in.
Molly has submitted applications for several IMCs; for reasons of mental health conditions, death in the family, and most recently for a fit of seizures during an exam. All of these IMCs were accepted, but due to the board only meeting once a semester, she had to wait until results came out to know if her IMC for failing an exam ‘due to being unconscious’ had been accepted. While she felt that it would have been hard for them to reject that application, it was still stressful as worried about whether her evidence would be enough; a key concern for students who apply for IMCs. This indicates that the University should create more guidelines about which evidence is acceptable for students to use.
Molly was able to retake the exams that she missed and overall was grateful for the ‘safety net’ that the IMCs provided, and they were easy to fill out. But she is still concerned as the University policy means that you can only submit an IMC for a condition once, as they claim that you should have enough time between assessment periods to put appropriate exam measures in place to accommodate the condition. To us, this part of the policy is ridiculous, as conditions like Molly’s won’t go away and there aren’t any more exam arrangements available to her, having already had all of the possible exam arrangements put in place. In addition, it states that long term conditions are “likely to give rise to valid IMC claims only if they first come to light or are diagnosed, or become unexpectedly and markedly worse, at assessment time.” However, this is completely insufficient for the needs of people who have long term conditions that mean they can carry out their studies normally in periods of being well, but also suffer from frequently flare ups that may coincide with several assessment times. Molly is concerned for her future assessments as she doesn’t want to have to leave university but will not be able to use IMCs again.
Emily applied for an IMC because she was struggling at University due to an underlying health condition, but hers was not granted. She was told that her IMC could not be granted as her condition was underlying, and that extensions were the only help she could receive on assignments. She was grateful to student services for updating her Disabled Access Plan to include exam arrangements and travel, but she felt like this was not enough to mitigate the effect of her condition on her studies. Emily feels like the IMC process is unfair towards students with long term health conditions and was disappointed by their decision not to include them in the IMC process. She felt that the University does not appreciate how unpredictable and difficult health conditions can be – feeling like she is ‘constantly playing catch up at University’. She said, “I wish that IMCs could be granted to students like me so that any impact on my work could be considered”
Elle experienced severe abdominal pain (later diagnosed as suspected endometriosis) on the day of an exam which meant that she could barely move, let alone attend an exam. She was told by several staff that day that if she got a medical note and submitted an IMC claim within 3 days of the exam, it was very unlikely it would be rejected, and she would get to re-sit the exam as a first attempt in August. Elle started revising for the exam in early summer, as she was going on holiday to America just before the resits period and didn’t have to revise on holiday. However, on results day it stated she had passed the module with mitigation. It turns out that with an IMC, if you get 35-39%, you can’t resit the exam; Elle had achieved this despite not having even sat the exam, as she had gotten 70 in the 50% of the module that was coursework. The irony is, if she had just got one mark lower in her coursework, she would have been allowed to re-sit and almost certainly gotten a better mark. Elle said she felt the policy “though unintentional, essentially penalised her for having done well in her coursework”.
If you’re a bit lost at this point, we don’t blame you. The weird intricacies of this system are enough to make anyone’s head spin, and if you’re in need of an IMC, you’re likely already in a pretty distressed state because of whatever reason has made you need to claim one. An SU officer informed us that the current protocol is for departments to tell students to contact the Advice and Welfare Service when they inform their department that they are applying for an IMC, but this is not widely known, and does not often happen in practice.
Our calls to the University are: 1) Give students the ability to re-sit if you get a ‘soft fail’, especially if they couldn’t attend one of the assessments. 2) Improve the description of evidence needed, so students can feel confident that their IMC will be approved, and have more frequent board meetings. 3) Add flare ups of long term health conditions to the list of valid IMC claims.
In conclusion, while IMCs are great in concept, the policy needs some work, and we urge the University to consult with (and act on the requests of) disabled students and students with long term illnesses in the future, to ensure that these students can display their full academic potential, in spite of the conditions out of their control that may cause them to need to delay assessments.
A spokesperson from the University said: “a working group with representation from the SU, academic and professional services staff is exploring changes to strengthen our Individual Mitigating Circumstances (IMC) policy. In particular, this group is working on improving communication, clarity and consistency across the University in relation to IMCs. Some of these changes should come into effect later this year.”