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NCUK: providing assessment continuity during the pandemic

Across 80+ Delivery Partners in more than 30 countries, NCUK develops around 200 assessments resulting in over 60,000 individual submissions to support the thousands of students who take up their place at leading universities worldwide each year. But as a result of the pandemic, NCUK has accelerated its digital strategy to support partners, institutions and students.

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"Every student that has studied with NCUK during the pandemic has been fully assessed on their academic and English language capabilities"

Historically, NCUK assessments were taken by students with pen and paper meaning that our system consisted of physically packing, shipping, coordinating assessment venues, marking and moderating assessments.

“Historically, NCUK assessments were taken by students with pen and paper”

Pre-pandemic, NCUK had initiated a digital assessment project with a three-year implementation plan. However, due to Covid-19, this plan was rapidly accelerated as NCUK required an immediate tactical solution to provide globally accessible assessments to ensure continuity for our Global Network of Delivery Partners, Universities, and most importantly, our students.

The revised awarding model

Our objective was clear from the outset; to deliver a valid and reliable awarding model that minimised grade inflation and was based on a balance of qualitative and quantitative evidence, with student assessment at the heart of the award. To achieve this, NCUK introduced new, digitally enabled, time-controlled assessments which:

  • were compulsory for all students.
  • could be completed regardless of physical location.
  • had minimal technical requirements.

This ensured consistency across NCUK’s Global Network. A revised awarding model considered these new assessments in combination with a range of primary and supplementary evidence for the 60,000 student submissions:

NCUK’s approach provided stakeholders with confidence that student achievement was accurately assessed. Within a matter of weeks over 40 universities signed off on the assessment approach. An incredible timescale given the scale of the global challenges. From the student perspective, NCUK received fewer appeals than in previous years, and just under 1% of the total student cohort.

Learning year-on-year

NCUK is part of the The Northern Consortium charitable group. Its primary objective is “to advance education” by providing high quality qualifications and progression pathways via NCUK. We believe technology in education should not be a barrier or prerequisite to this.

The experience of the 2019/20 academic year emphasised the value of providing flexible assessment options. As such, NCUK has introduced a digital assessment platform which all Delivery Partners use to record results, store marked student work, and to deliver teaching where necessary. This enables the delivery of our existing assessment formats on paper, on-screen or remotely.

This approach provides continuity for stakeholders and the experience continues to inform decisions on NCUK’s assessment strategy with pedagogically sound and efficient assessment methodologies for the future.

As a result, every student that has studied with NCUK during the pandemic has been fully assessed on their academic and English language capabilities. They have been able to present full grade assessments to their receiving university, typically within six weeks of sitting their final exams.

Most importantly, they have gained the knowledge required to adapt to their university studies and ensure NCUK continues to meet our charitable objectives.

About the author:

Suraiya Arshad is Academic Operations Director at NCUK. Suraiya has worked for the organisation for 15 years and is responsible for leading the delivery of assessments, student management system and quality assurance activities. Suraiya has worked in international education for more than 25 years and has extensive experience leading successful projects and more recently the companywide move to digital assessment.  Originally from Singapore, educated in Australia and living in England, she has a wide array of experience in global Delivery Partner operations with complex operational models.


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