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BREAKING: University to provide a ‘safety net’ for final-year undergraduates

No first or second-year undergraduate assessment will be classed


Cambridge’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Graham Virgo, today (March 31) emailed all undergraduate and postgraduate students with details of the University’s “principles and policies” as to how assessments will be conducted next term.

Final-year undergraduates have been informed that the University will provide a ‘safety net’ process of examination, which “will not apply to students on the fourth year of an integrated Master’s programme.” The “safety net” means that, “as long as a graduating undergraduate student passes their assessments, no graduating undergraduate student will receive a class lower than the class which they were awarded in their second-year exams.”

First and second-year undergraduate students have been informed that they will undertake “modified assessments”, but that these will not be classed.

All students are required to take their 2020 alternative assessments and will be expected to pass (either in the main assessment period or the second assessment period as appropriate).

Virgo added: “If you have specific concerns relating to your studies, please contact your Director of Studies, Tutor, Senior Tutor or course director.”

The “Assessment Principles and Policies (Easter term 2020)” are as follows:

1. There is an expectation that all students will be required to continue studying during Easter term, assuming good health and no significant caring commitments, either in preparation for the alternative summative assessments which replace examinations in Cambridge or engaging in formative assessment where the Faculty or Department has chosen this as the alternative assessment method.

2. To ensure fairness, all students enrolled for the same paper will be required to undergo the same method of assessment. Exceptions will be made if necessary for students requiring alternative modes of assessments on medical or disability grounds.

First and second-year undergraduate students

3. First and second-year undergraduate students will undertake modified assessments. However, no first- or second-year undergraduate assessment will be classed. Many of the modified assessments which have been approved will be formative, meaning that students must undertake the assessment and will get feedback on it, but they will have no recorded marks on their University transcript. Some Faculties and Departments have required their modified assessment to be summative, which will mean that students will get a mark for their work and this will appear on their transcript, but, because of the extraordinary circumstances in which the assessment is taken, no class will be awarded.

4. If first- or second-year undergraduate students are unable to take their modified assessment at the scheduled time in the Easter term, (for example for reasons of illness, caring responsibilities or technical difficulties), the following will happen:

(i) if the assessment is a formative or summative piece of coursework (e.g. an extended essay), the student can receive an extension to the deadline for submission of their work;

(ii) if the assessment is an online assessment, the student will have an opportunity to take it during a second assessment period, on a date to be determined once the University is fully operational again. The assessments in the second period will be delivered in the same way as those delivered in the Easter term.

Students who are unable to take any assessment either in the first or second assessment period, or only some of the assessment, will need to apply for consideration by the Examination Access and Mitigation Committee (EAMC) for the award of an examination allowance that would allow them to proceed to the next year.

Finalist undergraduate students and students on integrated Master’s programmes

5. All final year undergraduate students and fourth-year students on integrated Master’s programmes will have the opportunity to receive a classed degree. Most third-year students on integrated Master’s programmes will have the opportunity to receive a classed degree via the alternative assessments proposed, if it is necessary for their progression to the fourth year of study or if they intend to graduate after their third year.

6. The University will provide a ‘safety net’ for final year undergraduates. This will not apply to students in the fourth year of an integrated Master’s programme. The ‘safety net’ means that, as long as a graduating undergraduate student passes their assessments, no graduating undergraduate student will receive a class lower than the class which they were awarded in their second-year exams. The 2020 assessments will therefore only confirm the class awarded in their second year or improve it. All students are required to take their 2020 alternative assessments and will be expected to pass (either in the main assessment period or the second assessment period as appropriate). They will be assessed and will get marks for each component of their assessment, which will appear on their transcript. A class will then be determined by the Examiners on the basis of the marks achieved, except where this results in a class lower than the class previously awarded in their second year, in which case that class will be recorded on their transcript. Any student who was not awarded a class in their second year but was allowed to progress, will be classed only on the basis of their achievement in the 2020 assessments. This replicates normal practice.

7. Students who are unable to participate in the assessment in Easter term for reasons such as ill-health, significant caring commitments, technical difficulties or similar disruption, will be given an opportunity to take the same method of assessment in a second assessment period when the University is back in full operation. Students may not re-sit the assessment in the second assessment period if they were able to sit it in the first period. Students will be permitted to self-certify illness and caring commitments and similar disruptions.

8. Students who are eligible to be classed but who are unable to take any assessment either in the first or second assessment period, or only some of the assessment, or students who are otherwise affected by serious medical or other grave cause will be considered by either the Examination Access and Mitigation Committee (EAMC) for an alternative examination allowance, for example, a ‘DDH’ (Deemed to Deserve Honours) class, or will be classed on the marks received from a subset of the assessment that has taken place.

Postgraduate taught students

9. Postgraduate Taught Students (e.g. MPhil, MBA, LLM and MST) will be given the opportunity to receive a classed degree via the alternative assessments which have been approved.

10. Students who are unable to participate in the assessment in Easter term for reasons such as ill-health, significant caring commitments, technical difficulties or similar disruption, will be given an opportunity to take the same method of assessment in a second assessment period when the University is back in full operation. Students may not re-sit the assessment in the second assessment period if they were able to sit it in the first period. Students will be permitted to self-certify illness and caring commitments and similar disruptions.

11. Students who are eligible to be classed but who are unable to take any assessment either in the first or second assessment period, or only some of the assessment, or students who are otherwise affected by serious medical or other grave cause will be considered by either the Examination Access and Mitigation Committee (EAMC) or Board of Graduate Studies (BGS) for an alternative examination allowance, for example, a ‘DDH’ (Deemed to Deserve Honours) class, or will be classed on the marks received from a subset of the assessment that has taken place.

Disabled students

12. The modified assessments should not disadvantage disabled students. It is anticipated that the nature of the modified assessments will be inclusive, meaning that in many cases the examination access adjustments (such as extra time, rest breaks or use of a computer) will naturally apply. Once a student has received their assessment plan and timetable, they should discuss the need for any new examination access adjustment, or adjustments to existing arrangements, with their College.

In an email from Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope earlier today, students were informed that these “proposed methods of assessment have been developed in consultation with colleagues across the University.” They have also been agreed to by student representatives. Toope noted that these colleagues tried to ensure fairness and rigour in the process of assessment while taking into account the health and wellbeing of students and staff.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and we are truly without precedents on which to rely”, he said, adding that they “may have to further adapt [their] approach to responding to events as they unfold.” The Vice-Chancellor also acknowledged that students and staff in different circumstances would be affected in “very different ways” in the coming months. Whatever those circumstances are, he says, “it will always be our priority to offer as much support as we can.”

All information for students and staff can be found on the University’s coronavirus information page.

Further information pertaining to individual Faculties and Departments will also be sent to the relevant students today.