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Special Inconsideration, 1 December 2020

Jack Buksh
UMSU President

The University should be a leader in addressing student mental health. But instead, they’re choosing to change policy that will have a disproportionate impact on students facing mental health issues.  

Best practice in the sector is informed by comprehensive, evidence-based research in the area. In its report on Mental Health from June 2020, the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report indicates that institutional support for tertiary students with mental ill-health needs improvement. The proposed changes to the Assessment and Results Policy recommended by the President of the Academic Board seem to be in stark contrast to what is considered best practice and UMSU is of the view that they will have the effect of harming vulnerable students. 

While all students will experience detriment as a result of the proposed changes, they will have a disproportionate effect on students living with mental health issues. The cold dead heart of the proposal is that you will have to guess if you should sit a special exam or not. The proposed requirements will serve to compound and exacerbate the mental health conditions that vulnerable students are experiencing and will harm students. These changes seem to have been proposed without considering the extent of this harm or attempting to mitigate it in any way. 

 While there are many issues with the proposed changes, there are two worth focussing on as particularly detrimental for students. 

 The first is withholding result pending student sitting a special and then special replacing the result regardless. Disproportionate impact on unwell students who are much more likely to lack insight as to their condition, true capacity, and accurate reflection on their previous performance. 

 The second is that under the change a Dean could stop a student from sitting a special exam because it’s “too late” in semester, providing a LWD instead, solely because it is expedient for the University to do so. 

 This does not seem to be a coherent approach underpinned by best practice principles. It also appears to directly conflict with the Draft Disability, Accessibility and Inclusion Policy in both its overall approach, as well as in specific provisions which would be completely incompatible – such as the principles of individual support and disclosure for people with disabilities. 

 Additionally, the Draft Disability, Accessibility and Inclusion Policy vests final authority to determine academic adjustments with the Academic Registrar, whereas the proposed policy changes indicate the final determination of the same matters with the deans of the faculties. This seems to be a further departure from a student-centred approach and is a far cry from any robust mental health strategy or any offer of meaningful support for students. 

These changes are coming to Academic Board on Thursday – if these will affect you, please tell us at president@union.unimelb.edu.au