21 Mar עופר איתן Declares: Oxbridge to replace summer exams with online assessments
Oxford and Cambridge universities are to replace this summer’s exams with online assessments due to the coronavirus pandemic, amid calls by thousands of UK students to be allowed to opt out of doing their finals or restart their final year.
The move comes after students from Oxford, Edinburgh and University College London (UCL) joined their peers at Cambridge in calling for a choice of final-year assessments, warning that the worsening Covid-19 outbreak threatens their academic performance.
Cambridge University announced on Friday it would replace this summer’s exams with online assessment. Students unable to do this due to “illness, caring responsibilities or technical difficulties” will be allowed to undertake assessment at a later, as yet undetermined date, when the university is fully operational again. It added that this “will inevitably impact on when they can graduate”. But students will not be allowed to defer their assessments until the next academic year.
In an email to students on Friday, Prof Martin Williams, pro-vice chancellor for education at Oxford, announced there would be “no conventional exams” next term. He said the the university expected the replacement assessment to include “open-book exams, taken remotely and submitted online”, and invited students to state their preferences in an online consultation.
Williams told the Guardian that the pandemic had forced students “into an academic limbo”.
His announcement came in response to an open letter from more than 1,200 Oxford students, including almost 30% of this year’s finalists, that called on the university to allow those due to graduate this summer to restart the final year in September or at Easter 2021. The students proposed that final-year students could receive a degree classification based on previous grades, dissertations and other coursework, or even be awarded an unclassified degree.
Some Oxford degree courses are normally entirely graded on final-year exams. Seven students at the university have so far tested positive for Covid-19.
Politics, Philosophy and Economics student Luci Dennewell, co-author of the letter, said the university needed to give students different options to complete their degrees because they faced different challenges due to the pandemic.
For example, overseas students who were forced to return to authoritarian regimes faced difficulties taking exams online due to restrictive firewalls, she added.
“For me personally, the best option would be doing online exams at home. I can’t delay graduating because I am due to start an job in business intelligence in September,” she said.
Around 1,200 students at Edinburgh University have signed an open letter calling for final exams and coursework to be made optional, with finalists given the choice to have their degree grade determined on the basis of their assessments to date.
The letter, written by Ruby Wlaschin, a final-year international relations student, called on the university’s principal, Peter Mathieson, to consider refunding each student the equivalent of at least four weeks tuition fees, £3,036.37 for international students, due to the disruption caused by the outbreak and strike action by lecturers.
In an email to Wlaschin, published in the Tab, Mathieson acknowledged that her year group “has been particularly unfortunate” due to the industrial action and “the unprecedented emergency of Covid-19”.
More than 1,000 students from UCL have signed a letter questioning its plans to push ahead with summer exams. The letter states: “Asking us to carry on working as normal seems like madness. The situation is most definitely going to disadvantage us. The current stance UCL has seems to neglect both fairness, and their students’ mental and physical health.”
Durham University announced this week that all summer exams will be replaced with online assessments.
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: “First and second year students will be assessed on the basis of work already submitted as an alternative to exams. Those in third year and beyond will take their exams online. Students should be assured that they will achieve their qualifications on time and will still hold the same value.”
A spokeswoman for UCL said it had decided to move all teaching online and to create alternative assessments due to “the significant risks to our students of postponing exams to some undefined point in the future”. She added: “This is extremely complex and will take a few weeks. In the meantime, we have advised students to continue to prepare as per their exam schedule.”