Students at Newcastle University are campaigning against expected exam rule changes that will see people with learning difficulties, as well as mental and physical illness, being forced to sit exams


In recent weeks, largely because I have been applying to university myself, as a journalist and as a college student, I have been keeping a closer eye on what has been going on at the universities in my county and region. Last week, I was very surprised to see that despite opposition from the NUSU Council, Newcastle University seems to be rushing ahead with plans to introduce an unsavoury policy across the system.

The Fit to Sit policy that the university is trying to introduce will make it a lot harder for students with learning difficulties, mental health problems or ongoing physical illness to be excused or delay their exams — even if it is for a good reason. Being a student with learning difficulties, while I know that Newcastle University is one of the top universities in the country, this, if I had applied to it, would have made it a lot harder for people like me to achieve their ambitions.

In further detail, the policy will make it harder for students to prove extenuating circumstances and they, therefore, will be deemed fit to sit an exam if they are able to sit it, regardless of mental illness or learning obstacles. On top of this, it will make it almost compulsory, even for those who experience such difficulties, to sit exams, risking their performance. The alternative is to submit a Personal Extenuating Circumstances form which would likely not be accepted.

While Newcastle University is among the top 30 universities in the UK, varying, depending on what rankings you look at, it does not give them the right to make it harder for those with invisible difficulties. Students’ voices matter and after a vote last week, the NUSU Council voted for a motion against the Fit to Sit policy with 95 per cent in support of it.

Student democracy is a great thing but only if it works and provided that the powers that be, in this case, Newcastle University, listen to the overwhelming voice of the students themselves. As a person who, if I attended this university, would most likely be affected by such a policy, I cannot help but oppose it.

The policy has already faced opposition from Mind the Gap, the universities’ Mental Health Society and there will be a conference where the issue will be discussed and debated on the 25th of April.

While the policy has already been introduced at other universities around the UK, for me, it doesn’t necessarily make it right. If you would like to find out more about the fight against Fit to Sit, keep an eye on #FitToSit on Twitter and I will keep you up to date with any developments through Shout Out UK.

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