The University's response to AUSA recommendations for academic support

Thursday 14 October 2021

In September 2021, the Auckland University Students' Association (AUSA) submitted to the University a memorandum of recommendations for academic and student support to reflect the disruption to teaching and learning in 2021 from Covid-19.

An update to the University's response to those recommendations is set out below.

Academic Support:

  • Universal grade bump of 2.5%: As highlighted in our previous communication to you regarding the ‘universal grade bump’ that was adopted in Semester One 2020, we appreciate that this initiative was well received by students. However, an unintended consequence was that it resulted in some students progressing into their next level of study without having gained sufficient knowledge and skills. It is important that students can demonstrate they have gained the required knowledge and skills from a course in order that they are sufficiently prepared to progress into their next level of study. For this reason, we will not be implementing a universal grade bump.

  • Flexible Assessment deadlines – universal approach:  We acknowledge that this is an issue, and we will work with Faculties to explore the implications of a more flexible approach to assessment deadlines. Acknowledging that this may not be possible for all courses or programmes.  In addition, we are looking at the development of University procedures for ‘special consideration for coursework’, which will provide guidance to faculties for assessment deadlines in unavoidable personal circumstances in the future. Procedures of this nature are currently in place in some faculties and feedback from those faculties, suggest they are working well.

  • Retaking a failed course with no charge: We acknowledge the impacts of the current lockdown are particularly challenging for “first year to tertiary study” students. We believe this group are likely to have faced the greatest challenge in transitioning to online learning in a University context. For students in this group who have completed all the required assessments for the course (including the exam) but have received a D+ grade, we would like to provide a range of support options. Students will be contacted and invited to meet with staff to discuss their situation, potential support, and academic advice for study in 2022. Potential support options may include a fees free repeat on a course they have previously failed and financial support towards University accommodation for 2022. 

  • Waiver of Aegrotat and Compassionate Consideration fees: There is provision for those students who require financial assistance to cover the aegrotat fee.  Our experience indicates that when there is no fee attached to this process, there are significantly more applications that are not valid. In other words, students put in an application without meeting the criteria and this draws resource away from the students in genuine need. We will ensure that students who are in genuine hardship will have their fee covered by student emergency funds; we are exploring ways to streamline this process. In addition, this semester we will waive the aegrotat requirement that students have to achieve well above a minimum pass standard (C+ and above) in their coursework to receive a change of grade through this process. Waiving this requirement will mean that students who are sitting on a C- or a C will be able to have their applications considered.

  • Allowing students to use spaces on campus: 
    • Based on the Ministry of Education advice, the University has clear guidelines regarding what student access is allowed at each Alert Level. Access to faculty spaces is being managed at the Faculty level and to University spaces at the central level. In all cases, the safety of students and staff is of paramount concern.
    • Study spaces in the Kate Edger building, Tai Tonga, and Tai Tokerau campus are available at Alert Level 3, and more spaces will be available on other campuses at Alert Level 2.
    • Exam spaces:
      • In general: if we are at Alert Level 3, spaces are available for students who do not have a suitable space at home/or otherwise to complete an exam on the City and Tai Tonga campuses (extended opening hours). These spaces do not need to be booked. If we are at Alert Level 2, spaces will be available at Tai Tokerau with extended hours on days when there are exams for courses where students are based on Tai Tokerau campus.
      • Smarter Proctoring: Exam space for students taking exams using Smarter Proctoring: There will be a limited number of University computers set up for students whose exams have been designated as using Smarter Proctoring (students have been advised by their lecturer if this is the case). For students sitting an exam with Smarter Proctoring, computers will be available on the City (Kate Edger Information Commons) and Tai Tonga campuses due to the IT requirements of Smarter Proctoring under Alert Level 3. Access to the computers will be on a first come first served basis. Note no Tai Tokerau based exams are using Smarter Proctoring.
  • Additional period of fees free extensions for honours research projects: An additional 1-month fees free extension for students enrolled in sub-90-point research projects will be offered on a case-by-case basis if it can be demonstrated that CovId-19 has impacted their ability to complete. Students need to be aware that later due dates will likely impact on the examination process (i.e., examiners and assessor input) due to the time of the year and proximity to the Christmas holiday period. It is expected that there will be consequential delays in results being available.

  • Compensation for lost parts of courses: This decision will be at a faculty level and may include extension of course dates to enable students to complete some practical components, particularly if close to completing their qualification. Fees per se will not be refunded.

Inspera Smarter Proctoring

As you know this year, the University made the decisions to move to online delivery of coursework exams to establish certainty for students and staff. As it transpires, given the uncertainty Auckland is facing in relation to Alert Levels, we made the right call. The vast majority of our exams will be held online using the Inspera platform. For a very small number of exams (6%; 35 out of a total of 623) we will be using Inspera Smarter Proctoring (remote invigilation software). These courses are the ones that previously had an exemption to be sat on campus because they are required for professional registration. Then following are our responses to the specific points you raised in relation to Smarter Proctoring:

  • Uncomfortable and invasive of privacy: We appreciate the challenges of sitting an exam at home and the concern for some students regarding privacy. We note that when students sit in person exams these are invigilated and their activity in that exam is also closely monitored. Smarter Proctoring technology flags the same type of behaviour that would be picked up by in-person invigilators during an exam. Unusual behaviours will be flagged by the system and then reviewed manually by the Exams Office, who will carefully assess whether the behaviours need further investigation. Recordings will not be used in isolation or without human oversight but may be considered in conjunction with other evidence if it appears that academic misconduct has occurred. Students sitting an invigilated exam on Smarter Proctoring should not feel more restricted in their behaviour than they would in an in-person invigilated exam environment. We believe for these high stakes courses, the advantages that remote invigilation offers such as providing a level playing field for exams that can enable hard working students to demonstrate their ability and deter the minority of students who choose not to act with integrity, outweigh any perceived disadvantages. Every effort will be taken to maintain student privacy. Here is a link to the University’s privacy notice WRT Smarter Proctoring.

  • Particular system requirements: As other universities who employ this technology have done (e.g. The University of Otago) students have been invited to undertake a ‘practice exercise’ which provides them with the opportunity to install the required software on to the device they will be using for their examination; and complete a system/technical check and familiarise themselves with the process well in advance of their exam. In addition, the University has obtained additional supplies of equipment (laptops and webcams) for students to request should they not have the required technology requirements.

  • Neurodiverse students: We can confirm that Inspera Smarter Proctoring does not use eye movement tracking. Note the usual special conditions process will be available for students sitting exams that will use Inspera Smarter Proctoring.

  • Academic misconduct: The University is continually looking at our processes to see how we can mitigate cheating in exams including supporting teaching staff to design exams that test high order thinking skills rather than fact recall; a review of the examinations policy; the recent establishment of Academic Integrity Officer positions in each faculty; establishing an Academic Integrity Community of Practice; increased resourcing for the Exams Office to help process cases; monitoring of known cheating websites; ensuring we follow standard practices when cheating sites are identified, etc. In addition, we are in the process of redeveloping the student academic integrity modules and have signalled that we would like to engage students in this important piece of work. Online tests and exams offer many benefits to students, but they are vulnerable to academic integrity issues and remote proctoring is one of a suite of potential solutions. In the case of exams that are using the Smarter Proctoring software, any behaviour that is flagged by the system will be manually reviewed to ensure that there is human oversight of this process. Allegations of academic misconduct stemming from an exam using Smarter Proctoring will be investigated as per usual process, which involves obtaining input from the student about the situation and having them provide a statement, which is considered alongside any evidence before an outcome is determined.

In addition to our responses above, we would like to take this opportunity to provide you with a general update on recent developments in student support:

  • Financial Support for Students: Through the Government’s Hardship Fund for Learners (HAFL) the University received $1.2m earlier this year and has access for up to $1.3m by 30 June 2022. Approximately $900k of the HAFL has been spent in 2021 predominantly on providing accommodation for students who are in hardship and do not have suitable home environments for study. The majority of these hardship grants have gone to Māori and Pacific students. Additional funding has been spent on supporting students in emergency situations (e.g., homeless, domestic abuse) by providing HAFL funded student accommodation. In addition, the University increased its Student Emergency Fund to $500k in 2021 (normally less than $50k). Approximately $350k of the SEF has been spent so far. The University has also provided additional funding direct
    to AUSA to top up its Hardship Fund.

  • Technology Support: So far this year the University has distributed 882 loan laptops and 445 WIFI devices to students, at a total cost of just over $1,000,000. 

  • Health and Wellbeing Support: Through the Government’s Tertiary Student Mental Health & Wellbeing Fund the University is expected to receive $1.1m in funding, each year for three years, to boost our mental health and wellbeing services for students (it is unlikely that the full amount will be able to be used in the first year which ends 30 June 2022. We are currently working with the Ministry of Health on a proposal to access this funding that will see a range of initiatives implemented, including the rapid expansion of Te Papa Manaaki | Campus Care, additional specialist services for Rainbow students, additional services to address drug and alcohol use, specific services for Māori, and a range of other wellbeing initiatives.

  • Student Accommodation Financial Support: When the University announced on-line teaching for the rest of the year, all students in University accommodation were told they could cancel their current contract with no notice or cancellation fees. This was in addition to the policy that rebated rent under Alert Levels 3 and 4 to residents who temporarily moved out.