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Cambridge students call for retake of final year amid Covid-19 outbreak

The University of Cambridge is facing calls to allow students to be able to retake their final year.

This comes as the global Covid-19 outbreak has forced all exams to be cancelled at the institution and moved online.

In an open letter to education pro-vice chancellor Graham Virgo, students stated that remote learning could affect both academic performance and student wellbeing.

“Marginalised and less privileged” students, including disabled students and those who have returned to oppressive regimes, would be likely to be worst affected, according to the letter.

This letter comes as the university moved into its most serious ‘red’ phase in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, with vice-chancellor Stephen Toope urging all students to “return home now”.

Cambridge took this step on Wednesday 18 March, immediately moving all teaching online and closing all university buildings on Friday 20 March. More than 1,300 students have signed thus far.

“We appreciate the impossibly difficult situation presented to the university,” the letter reads. “We write to you hoping to be part of the situation.”

We have stressed our opposition to assessments being carried out online in strict timed conditions and have urged the university to adopt as much flexibility as possible in developing these alternative arrangements

The students have proposed a number of options as to potential assessment. These include scheduled paper exams or predicted marks “based on supervision reports”, as well as the option to restart the year in September or retake the Easter term in 2021.

A Coronavirus update on the students’ union website said: “We have stressed our opposition to assessments being carried out online in strict timed conditions and have urged the university to adopt as much flexibility as possible in developing these alternative arrangements.”

A director of studies at Cambridge, who is also one of the teaching officers in its faculties, said that students were “rightly concerned” about summer exams.

Speaking to The Guardian, the anonymous academic said: “There is for most students also four weeks of teaching still to be done. Cambridge also has more to decide about in that relatively little teaching has ever been done online and there is relatively little continuous assessment.”

At Cambridge, exams contribute to between 60-80% of a student’s grade, a higher proportion than at most other universities.

Professor Toope is yet to respond to the open letter. However, in his Wednesday statement, he said: “We are all facing an unprecedented crisis. It may be months before we resume normal activity.”

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