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Students plagued with uncertainty over Special Considerations applications

Uncertainty surrounding academic outcomes is having negative impacts on the mental health of students.

Excessive delays of up to two months have seen students plagued with uncertainty in the special considerations process. 

Honi has received multiple complaints about the special considerations application process and its processing time, with students having to reapply up to three times for the same assignment. 

Special considerations requests are usually meant to be resolved within five working days, however the University has asserted that due to an increased amount of applications, the processing time is now ten working days.

Arts student Marley Roberts had to wait 19 days for her special considerations request to be finalised after a two-week long illness precluded her from studying. 

“I was totally unable to function like a human being, let alone study,” Roberts told Honi. “Eventually, I had no penalties! But it took a while because there were so many applications — re-applications, new assessments cropping up while I continued to be sick.”

The New South Wales stay-at-home order caused further complications. Student Heidi Brandt was in isolation after making casual contact with a COVID case at her work when her initial special considerations application was rejected. She had neither reliable internet nor computer access at home so was unable to fill out her student declaration.

“I was worried about my roommate and my family, where I had been the week before, and if I had COVID, I had no idea what I was going to do for money, work or rent. Not to mention having to sit in my tiny bedroom at 1pm on Friday 25th knowing I was meant to be sitting an exam that was worth 55% of my grade,” she said.

“Getting that declined application the first time almost sent me into a panic attack because I couldn’t find the reason in the way the email was structured. I was so worried!” 

Uncertainty surrounding academic outcomes is having negative impacts on the mental health of students. “The stress really impeded my recovery,” said Roberts. “I had no idea if I would fail my major essay. I would wake up every morning in a sweaty panic.”

University counseling and mental health services continue to only offer five sessions per student, with no increases foreshadowed at the moment. When questioned, a University spokesperson cited a “suite of support measures” including financial assistance, mental health and wellbeing support, peer-to-peer support, and technology assistance. 

Students’ Representative Council (SRC) President Swapnik Sanagavarapu said that while delays are expected in the wake of COVID, “they are however, extremely disruptive and anxiety inducing for students … This must be a cause for reflection on the part of the University – there are clearly structural issues of under-resourcing, bureaucratisation and centralisation that need to be resolved to provide students with the satisfaction they deserve.”

The University has since provided special considerations with additional resources to keep up with the peak load experienced. They claim this has brought the response time back down to two days per application.

“No student should experience delays of anywhere near two months. If this is the case for any of our students, we urge them to get in touch with us again so we can resolve the matter swiftly,” a University spokesperson said.

The SRC is currently conducting a survey about student experiences with special considerations. If you have used special considerations in the last year, you can complete the survey here