From Run Down to Run Over

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Words || Liam Holt

The last thing anyone wants to do when sick is fill out copious amounts of paperwork, especially considering the almost magical correlation between illness and periods of time in which health is absolutely paramount. It always seems like your immune system is acutely aware of your impending due dates and social plans and decides to abandon ship, allowing your body to careen into icebergs of congestion, fevers and general misery.

Adding to this despair is the realisation that your poor health is likely to impact on your performance in upcoming assessments. For the most part, students begrudgingly push through their conditions and ailments, most of which are only temporary thorns in the side, to simply avoid the inconvenience that arises from applying for Disruption to Studies. Due to the stringent conditions that have to be met to establish a claim for Disruption, including the duration of illness impairing students for a minimum of 3 days as well as proof of how such an illness prevented students from completing required tasks or assessments (or at least caused “substantial disruption”), most students suffering from mild illnesses will either tough it out or apply for only the most relevant assessment or task.

Some might argue that this rigorous system helps prevent the Disruption to Studies policy being abused by unscrupulous individuals looking for easy passage through difficult tasks or busy periods of assessments. This is probably true. However, when the University screens applications and determines which ones are genuine, the purpose of the policy is designed to help protect vulnerable students and provide equitable solutions when academic performance is likely to be impaired. If the policy sets too onerous a burden on students to prove their medical conditions, or doesn’t provide adequate support to students who face significant disruption as a result of conditions expected to affect them for long periods of time, the policy is no longer effective in meeting its objective.

In the opinion of the SRC’s Business and Economics Faculty Representative, Sarah McCabe, the support currently offered to students affected by illness by the university is inadequate. McCabe puts this down to an overly complicated process and the frequent breakdown of communication between the University and students applying for disruption:

“[The whole thing was] difficult to navigate. While staff were genuine and sincere, unfortunately they were frequently unable to answer my questions. I was often directed to the wrong form or criteria, which is particularly problematic given applications are time-sensitive.”

McCabe also expressed her concern for the lack of mechanisms currently in place to ensure students who are diagnosed with chronic illness don’t slip through the cracks. 

“Generally, when you fall chronically ill, you have no way to reasonably predict that your illness will be long-term. For students who fall unwell, individually applying for disruptions across multiple units is time-consuming. Perhaps more importantly, having to make multiple applications leaves room for inconsistencies across subjects … While it’s fantastic that the University offers support for prior conditions, there is a gap for students that become ill in the long-term during semester.”

The primary options offered to students who fall chronically ill during semester are individual applications for consideration per assessment, or to completely withdraw from units without academic penalty. A lack of middle ground may see students forced into situations that cause significant impact to their academic progress.

“If a semester is already half-completed, it would be devastating for a student to feel they must withdraw because their consideration process took too long to be processed or their individual considerations were dealt with inconsistently across subjects.”

As a member of the SRC, McCabe is focused on improving student welfare and believes that the Disruption to Studies policy is in dire need of an upgrade: “If it is not addressed, we are failing students that fall ill. Not only is being unwell already terrible, you face a second victimisation if your only option is to withdraw.”

McCabe believes that the way forward involves a collaborative effort between staff in order to ensure a universal standard of consideration in situations where multiple units are affected.

When approached to comment on this article, Pro Vice Chancellor (Students) Leigh Wood said new policy would be taking effect from December 4, with the introduction of a clearer procedure, an online form that “streamlines processes”, and greater flexibility for supporting documents. The name of Disruption to Studies will be changed to Special Consideration “because that is the language that students understand”. 

Wood continued: “Will this deliver a perfect Special Consideration framework? Most likely no, but a post implementation review of the Policy is planned for the end of Session 1, 2018 and broad feedback will be sought from the University community.”

For the time being, keep up your Vitamin C and stay hydrated. It’s a long push to final exams.