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University of Cambridge tells students to balance their phone on top of tin cans during admissions interviews

The University of Cambridge has asked students without a tablet device to balance their phone on top of tin cans during admissions interviews this year.

The interviews are taking place online rather than at colleges due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. For some subjects, applicants are expected to show how they have worked out problems set by academics during the interview.

The university has advised students without access to a tablet and stylus device to balance their mobile phones on top of tin cans, with the camera switched on so that academics can watch students work on paper.

One head teacher explained: “There’s just no way that that will be an equivalent experience. This really did read to me as one of the most overt barriers to access I’ve ever seen.”

“If you’re sitting comfortably working on a tablet you’re going to exude far more confidence than if you’re trying to balance your work underneath a phone on top of a couple of tin cans,” the head teacher added.

A spokesman for Cambridge University said no complaints had been received when the tin can method was used previously for the admissions of mature students.

Every effort is being made to ensure online interviews being conducted this year are fair and reasonable in these challenging circumstances.

– University of Cambridge spokesperson

He said economically disadvantaged candidates, such as those on free school meals or in care, have been sent tablets or have been reimbursed for purchasing them.

He added: “No one is disadvantaged as records are being kept of any technical issues faced by candidates so this can be taken into consideration by admissions staff.

“Every effort is being made to ensure online interviews being conducted this year are fair and reasonable in these challenging circumstances.

“Students have been offered the option of being interviewed either at their school or at home.

“Where they’re requested to show their working, for example with formulating equations, options have been offered to make this as simple and straightforward as possible. Workable solutions have been found for students who don’t have access to appropriate laptops or tablets.”

Oxford University also said that the use of a mobile phone with pen and paper was a “completely viable option” and that it had used to ensure everyone could access the interviews without purchasing equipment.

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