The outbreak of coronavirus is an evolving situation that will require universities to take action in order to protect the health, welfare and safety of students and staff, or to follow the advice of local or national authorities. The Royal Society of Chemistry appreciates that departments may need to make adjustments at short notice as a result of the exceptional and unpredictable circumstances. We consider such circumstances as extraordinary with regard to meeting the requirements of degree accreditation.
We expect departments to make reasonable adjustments to uphold overall standards and mitigate against the impact on their students, such that the overarching learning outcomes of their degree programmes, and the expectations for accreditation, can be preserved. Although we would expect learning outcomes to remain unaltered, we recognise that teaching and assessment methods will need to change, and the student experience will inevitably be adversely affected. We therefore appreciate that we will need to interpret the accreditation requirements flexibly.
We also recognise that the impact of any such changes will affect students differently depending on whether they are undergraduate students in the early years of their programme, on industrial or study abroad placements, or in their final year, or postgraduate students on standalone masters programmes. We appreciate that it may not be possible for those students graduating this year to make up for all lost content, but we would hope that students currently in the early years of their programme would ultimately be able to make up any missing elements of their degree programme.
Some of the biggest challenges will be in providing continued opportunities for practical and independent investigate work. There is an essential requirement that for all types of accreditation, students must develop a range of practical skills. In accreditation, this is tested in part by the time that students spend in practical work and we would expect departments to attempt to continue to provide as full an experience as possible, perhaps by rearranging practical classes for subsequent years of study. Online simulations or analysis of existing data can never properly replace experimentation in a practical laboratory. Nevertheless, we recognise that, if used carefully, they can sometimes be beneficial in going partway to meeting this requirement. Similarly, it may be necessary to change the nature of research projects, especially for students currently on taught postgraduate programmes, substituting computational analysis for experimental work. The revised projects should nevertheless remain appropriate for the discipline and provide a meaningful experience for the students.
Assessment will also present a challenge. Although we recognise that conventional examinations remain a very efficient and effective way of assessing some content, we do encourage departments to use a wide range of assessment methods. We will therefore support departments in offering online assessment or assessing through coursework. We also appreciate that some assessments may have to be combined, and that timings of assessments may have to change. In some cases, especially in the early years of an undergraduate programme, it may be sufficient to ensure that students have met the threshold intended learning outcomes to enable them to progress. We will nevertheless continue to require that alternative forms of assessment be appropriate for the full range of material to be tested, are inclusive and fair, and maintain the usual standards of robustness. Whilst recognising the need to make changes to assessment quickly, we would encourage departments to adhere to the highest standards in quality assurance to ensure that the degrees awarded retain, and are seen to retain, their value.
The Royal Society of Chemistry would expect departments to communicate the measures taken to preserve the overall standards. We understand that universities will have to move very quickly in making alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment and we will respond as soon as possible.
The Royal Society of Chemistry hopes this communication will provide reassurance to departments that any changes to teaching and assessment that prove necessary should not impact on the accreditation of their degrees. Any department that would like to discuss their particular arrangements with us should contact either Kim Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Toby Underwood (email@example.com). Back to degree accreditation