University exams and Covid 19: Why Universities need a unified approach

3 min read
Written by Meg Timbrell - Sort's Editorial Assistant and final year student Meg writes about the disruption to her university studies, and why she thinks Universities need to work together to adopt a unified and fair approach to end of year exams.

As a student in my final year at university, I want to share my experience of how Covid-19 has affected me and many other final year students. I am an English student, so I am fortunate to not have summer exams, however, I do have two pieces of coursework (including my dissertation) to complete from home with everything else that is happening currently.

Due to the timing of my years at university coinciding with industrial action, I have missed a total of twelve weeks of teaching time due to these teaching strikes. Five of these weeks have taken place in the most recent and crucial term, that of my dissertation. 

Due to the combination of industrial action and the ongoing pandemic, like many of my fellow students, I feel intensely de-motivated to continue with my Uni work not having had face-to-face contact with my lecturers and tutors in over six weeks.

The digital age we live in now enables me to regularly contact my dissertation supervisor via Skype, however, I have heard that not all of my peers have this luxury and are struggling to hear back from their tutors, even by email.

Many students are taking to social media to share their voices about the situation. One of these includes an open letter imploring Exeter University to make examinations and assignments optional to students due to the disruption to the usual way of learning. 

Every home is different, and for students who don’t have an adequate silent study space at home, this puts them at an unfair disadvantage. And if others are anything like me, I cannot fully concentrate when not working in a library or an environment with others hard at work around me.

Despite there being a plethora of online resources, certain subjects will need physical resources such as books or journals to access, proving problematic for many with all libraries being closed. Those with underlying health conditions, of course, are in an even more vulnerable position, the advice from the government being to self-isolate from the outside physical world for 12 weeks.

How anyone can do this and still be in the right headspace to write a dissertation or complete online exams is astounding. The letter received almost 1350 digital signatures, and I know there is widespread anxiety across the country and the globe from final year university students about the prospects of their degree.

Exeter University this past week have revealed that examinations will be carried out ‘open-book’ and online, with a ‘safety-net’ policy applied to all upcoming assignments and examinations. I personally find the idea of online, at-home exams problematic, as not everyone has a stable home environment or adequate internet access for which they can be completed.

The safety-net policy is fair and does not disadvantage students during this time, as it essentially means that students’ average grade cannot be any lower than it is now, it can only stay the same or improve based on future results from assignments carried out in isolation. But are all universities reacting in the same way? 

There is already a wide disparity in degrees from one university to another. Will this pandemic deepen this divide? Many are asking for the government to get involved in the same way in which they have for GCSEs and A levels in enforcing universities to adopt a blanket response during this strange time. 

Covid-19 affects each individual differently due to so many factors, and it is clear to us students that more needs to be done to ensure that students across the country are not unevenly affected. Final year students like me have been robbed of the remaining few months of celebrations, with graduation being postponed and grad jobs being surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty.

Trying to crack on and get my head down for the hardest and most important part of my entire time at university during a pandemic is proving incredibly difficult. More student voices need to be heard, from every background and each individual experience in order for the right response to be adopted.

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Written by Meg Timbrell

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