In semester two 2023, ANU overhauled their existing extenuating circumstances processes into the more centralised Extenuating Circumstances Application (ECA) system. As the current semester draws closer to its end and students approach exam season with the new system in place, Woroni examines its implementation.

The new ECA policy applies to all forms of assessment worth at least 20 percent, or in instances where students are seeking ten or more working days for an extension. 

Previously, when students had experienced unexpected difficulties during assessments, they could apply for either a “deferred examination” or “special consideration”, or for an extension through their academic college.

According to an ANU spokesperson, the new policy was brought in to target the potential for “subjective adjustment” present in the previous system, and to bring the ANU into line with the “standard practice across Group of Eight Universities.” 

ANUSA Vice President, Charlotte Carnes (she/they), affirmed to Woroni that the increased transparency of ECAs was indeed an improvement in certain respects, “removing the burden of converting the ‘difficultness’ of a circumstance into a grade value from teachers”, who previously “had no requirement to state whether special considerations were applied or to what account.” 

The ANU Disabilities Student Association (DSA) expressed that, “it is a good idea to have a central application process for all of the included accommodations as it increases accessibility for students and staff.”

However, both Carnes and DSA Officers  Griffin Wright (they/he) and Florrie Cooper (she/her),  expressed considerable concerns with other aspects of the application process. 

ANUSA has “fielded many complaints about this policy with inconsistencies in outcomes, documentation requirements, immediate rejections from the system for applying for an additional adjustment on the same assessment, and overall vague wording in the policy that has led [sic] to confusion.” 

The ANU maintains that “Both mental health and disability may be considered within the ECA framework”, and that “The Accessibility Office is also available to support adjustments to assessment conditions via Education Access Plans (for example, extra time to complete tasks, or access to different resources or environments).”

However, the DSA received complaints,“ that the process does not allow students to use their EAPs as documentation” when many students have “fluctuating and chronic conditions that may flare up in stressful times” and “the university already has access to this information.” 

EAPs are personalised education plans which outline reasonable adjustments to support the student in achieving their personal best. EAPs consider physical or learning disabilities, medical conditions, chronic or short-term illnesses/conditions that may impact a student’s education.  

Wright and Cooper emphasised that their primary concern is that there is “still an undue burden on students going through the process.” For instance,  students still have to “both procure documentation and write a personal statement” which can be not only “overly arduous, expensive and time consuming, but it forces students to retell their stories, which is draining and has the potential to re-traumatise them.” 

Another concern of the DSA, “is that ECAs only apply to assessment tasks worth 20 percent or more. We have had numerous students needing these sorts of accommodations on assessment tasks worth less than 20 percent.” 

First year ANU student, Ashleigh Keating, recently sought some academic considerations when unexpected family circumstances affected her ability to complete a French test. According to Keating, she “straight away raised this with [her] course convenor [sic] who recommended [she] go for an ECA.”

As the test was only worth 15 percent,  the request was rejected. Keating told Woroni that “I found it very strange that they didn’t have anything for assessments worth 15 percent as that is still quite high.”

The ANU provides that, “Where a task does not satisfy the threshold to lodge an ECA, a student may engage directly with the Course Convener to explore assessment adjustments.”

Keating approached ANUSA to express “frustration at this and how it really isn’t good enough.” Keating was not able to attain any consideration, and although she was told to contact CASS, she explains, “…as someone who has a lot of educational based trauma due to being autistic… I do not have it in me to be on a never-ending cycle of having to reach out to different areas of the uni with hopes one of them will take the time to read my case.”

Keating emphasised that “This isn’t the first time I have had requests for supports [sic] to only have them knocked back and have had to wait and see if this can be improved. This current system is not viable for vulnerable [sic] students and needs to be addressed.”

Carnes attests that, “Ultimately, the ECA process is intended to be a support mechanism for students in sickness and strife, however, it’s clear that this process is furthering or causing students distress in already difficult times.”

Students seeking more information on how to apply for an ECA can visit the ANU’s website, or reach out to the Examinations Office, course convener or the relevant dean for additional guidance or support. Students who have concerns about their eligibility or the ECA process in itself have been encouraged by ANUSA to reach out to the the Union’s Student Assistance team, who are able to provide help in navigating the process or providing advocacy if necessary. 

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.