UNSW students miss out on academic amnesty as failed courses count toward Term 2 results 

by Nadia Maunsell

Although COVID-19 weighted average mean (WAM) adjustment policies have been implemented at the University of Melbourne, La Trobe, and Monash in 2021, UNSW students will continue to have failed courses recorded on their academic transcripts and calculated as part of their WAM results in Term 2. 

Have you looked at your Term 2 Results of Assessment and noticed that your Academic Standing is anything other than ‘Good’? Thankfully, UNSW has changed the rules so that students cannot be academically suspended, excluded or terminated at the end of Term 2 due to continuing uncertainty with the extended lockdown in Sydney.  

Instead, students will be given an academic standing level of ‘provisional’ suspension or exclusion. You can continue studying in Term 3, but you’ll need to seek academic advice as further fails can result in suspension or exclusion.  

Academic standing is essentially an indication of your performance at university and for the most part, if you pass every subject, you will not be affected. However, “if you are in poor academic standing, it can affect your ability to continue your degree and undertake Honours,” according to SRC President Tom Kennedy. 

Last term, the SRC requested two policy changes from UNSW management that would have shielded students from academic penalties due to the lockdown.  

“We specifically called to allow people to withdraw from courses without academic penalty after the release of results,” Tom Kennedy said.  

“Currently, that occurs in Week 7 or 8. You still must pay for the course, but it’s not recorded up until that time as a failed course or a later withdrawal. We called for that to be extended until after results were released. In essence, that allows students to, upon receiving their results, have their record wiped clean as if they hadn’t taken the course and gives them another opportunity to take it in better circumstances.” 

The SRC also requested an optional Pass/Fail grade to be recorded as part of a student’s WAM. 

Despite their attempts, any failed courses from Term 2 will appear on students’ academic transcripts and be calculated as part of their WAM result. This means that students’ grades will be permanently recorded without any explanation as to how the lockdown may have affected their performance.  

This requested change in policy would have had a similar impact as last year’s COVID-19 WAM adjustment policy which was introduced as a direct result of the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 global pandemic at UNSW. The university ensured that failed courses were not recorded on official transcripts, did not affect WAM calculations, and were not included in the calculation of academic standing.  

Despite the strict lockdown that, once again, has students relying on online learning, UNSW did not implement the changes. While the SRC was not given a formal justification for the rejection, “in terms of feasibility of getting this to occur, it was hard to know if it is going to happen and that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t push for it, but in terms of prioritisation, it’s why we pushed for financial support first.” 

Other universities have been more forgiving. According to a report released by the University of Melbourne Student Union (USMU), students at Monash University who received a result of less than 40 in Semester 1, 2021 had their failed course automatically withdrawn. Students also had the option to withdraw from courses after results were released. If they chose to do so, they would not face an academic penalty. At La Trobe University, a traditional fail grade was replaced with a ‘V – No result recorded due to extenuating circumstances.’ 

At the University of Melbourne, results from the current Semester 2, 2021 will not be included in the calculation of a student’s WAM unless it is equal to, or higher than, the WAM the student achieved after Semester 1. Although, Semester 1 2021 results will be calculated using the standard approach.  

The decision at Unimelb was made by the Academic Board on August 25 in response to a USMU petition that gathered 20,240 signatures in support of the WAM adjustment. When they made the revision, the Board acknowledged that students had been subjected to “a disruption to study caused by unexpected and prolonged COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria.” 

Building on Unimelb’s success, the University of Sydney SRC published an Open Letter asking for a return of the COVID-adjusted WAM that was first introduced last year. If they are successful, Semester 2, 2021 results will be excluded from WAM calculations if they are lower than Semester 1 results. The SRC is also demanding that USYD waive attendance requirements and grant a deadline extension for discontinuation. After one week, the letter gathered 1286 signatures.  

According to USYD SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu, the campaign is important because there have been “more disruptions to students’ learning, more difficulty and uncertainty” as well as “fewer social supports and income supports afforded by the government” during this most recent lockdown.  

“I also think there’s an extent to which it’s reassuring to students, to know that the number on which they’re primarily compared to other students, is not going to be unfairly impacted by circumstances outside their control,” he said.  

With regard to Term 3 at UNSW, the SRC intend to push for COVID-19 adjustment policies again, but with a different strategy.  

“We’ll try to build stakeholder majority agreement both through one-on-one discussions and through a public campaign,” Tom Kennedy said.  

Tom Kennedy and Arc Chair of the Board Laura Montague have been in conversation about proposing the two policies at the upcoming Academic Board meeting on October 19th

“I really think that Tom has done a fantastic job at pushing these two particular policies and the discussions that we have at the Academic Board will influence and shape what the outcome eventually is,” she said.