Cambridge University students demand 24 hours to complete three-hour exams


Cambridge University students demand 24 hours to complete three-hour exams as professors move away from protocols put in place during Covid when tests were taken remotely

  • Cambridge Uni students have hit out at plans to give them five hours to complete a three-hour exam, complaining it is not long enough
  • Since Covid, undergraduates on English courses have sat exams remotely – and had full day to complete paper while being allowed access to books and  internet
  • Faculty chiefs say they want to shorten deadline for sake of student welfare after reports some undergraduates were spending full 24hrs working on their answers

Cambridge University students have hit out at plans to give them five hours to complete a three-hour exam, complaining that it is not long enough.

Since the Covid pandemic, undergraduates on English courses have sat exams remotely, where they had a full day to complete a paper while being allowed access to books and the internet.

Now dons want to reduce the deadline for returning scripts to five hours – prompting angry students to protest that they have been betrayed.

However, they are still being given two hours more than they would have had before Covid, and can still take advantage of the ‘open-book, open-web’ policy. Students with disabilities can also ask for extra time.

Faculty chiefs say they want to shorten the deadline for the sake of student welfare, following reports that some undergraduates were spending the full 24 hours working on their answers.

Cambridge University students have hit out at plans to give them five hours to complete a three-hour exam, complaining that it is not long enough. (File photo)

Cambridge University students have hit out at plans to give them five hours to complete a three-hour exam, complaining that it is not long enough. (File photo)

But the proposals have faced a backlash, especially because dons had promised freshers who started their courses last year that they would sit exams in the same format through all three years of their degree.

‘I am very worried and feel betrayed by this proposal,’ said one second-year student. ‘Last year the faculty promised 24-hour exams for the duration of our degree. The fact that this is being changed in our final year, when exams matter the most, is far more damaging to alleged ‘student welfare’ than continuing 24-hour exams. It is far more important to examine based on students’ ability to produce quality research than it is for them to memorise lines of text.’

But Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said: ‘I don’t know what these students are complaining about. These arrangements are pretty lax.

‘Inevitably during Covid there were some adjustments to exams but the only way to ensure fairness is for candidates to take timed papers, under invigilated conditions in an exam hall. Otherwise there is no way of guaranteeing that it is the student’s fingers on the keyboard – they can call in help from any direction. There is nothing to stop them doing the equivalent of ‘phone a friend’.’

Cambridge University confirmed the faculty has decided on the five-hour option for 2023’s exams for third years. ‘This was the preferred option in a survey,’ a spokesman said. ‘The pandemic has opened up a number of options for more innovative ways of examining students.’

For other papers next year and in 2024, the English faculty is proposing a return to the three-hour invigilated exams that were used before the pandemic.

The faculty also said it may ‘explore the possibility’ of watering down the traditional exam by allowing students to refer to notes in the exam hall and even take in their own laptops.

Minister recruits hit squads to end remote lectures in universities

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan (above) said: 'I am determined to drive up quality in higher education'

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan (above) said: ‘I am determined to drive up quality in higher education’

The Government has started recruiting hit squads to check universities are doing enough face-to-face teaching – with the aim of having teams ready to swoop by the start of the next academic year.

The inspectors will conduct spot checks to ensure in-person teaching has returned to pre-pandemic levels, with the threat of financial penalties for institutions that fail the test.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: ‘I am determined to drive up quality in higher education, from tackling drop-out rates and improving graduate outcomes to ensuring students have face-to-face learning. The Office for Students and I will be coming down hard on any providers that are not offering students full face-to-face learning by September.’

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday last month, Ms Donelan threw down the gauntlet to a ‘stubborn minority’ of vice chancellors and lecturers who were still working remotely and pledged to ‘put boots on the ground’ to tackle the issue.

Job adverts have been placed for ‘assessors’ who will be drawn from the ranks of ‘experienced academics’. Applicants are told they must be ‘willing to challenge established norms where these are not delivering a high quality academic experience’.

It is anticipated that each investigator will monitor a campus or department for nine to 11 days before writing a report.

The Government has also advertised for a free speech tsar – on an annual salary of £99,164 – to combat the rise of ‘cancel culture’ on campuses by overseeing new protections to stop academics, students and visiting speakers, being censored.

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