Dear students,

I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well. This has been an extraordinarily disruptive and difficult time for everyone and I know that many of you are worried about your studies and your examinations. We have had to make decisions rapidly in the current turmoil, and I understand the additional stress this uncertainty places on you.

 Supporting you through this is our first priority. We want you to achieve your goals now, and be prepared for the world beyond this pandemic. Your degree will be even more valuable in the future when people with your skills, knowledge, creativity and experience will be very much needed. 

 Our decision to go ahead with remote assessment was reached only after considerable thought and much debate. I want to thank you for your patience and for letting us know what is important to you through ICU’s COVID-19 Remote Assessment Survey, through your Departments, and directly via your emails and social media. We have listened carefully and worked closely with the ICU President, Deputy President (Education) and Deputy President (Welfare), the Vice-Provost (Education), the Faculty Vice-Deans (Education) and the Academic Registrar to find a solution. 

We believe remote assessment will allow you to progress in the timescales you are expecting and give those of you due to graduate this year the opportunity to meet requirements for further study or employment. In reaching this conclusion, we discussed several options for formal examinations. These included: moving the examinations to later in the year, replacement with alternative means of assessing progress, using only pass/fail grading and cancelling exams entirely. We felt that these did not give you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge in a familiar format of exam and were likely to burden you with higher stakes in subsequent years. You can read a more detailed explanation of our decision here.

 We have heard your specific concerns around cheating, the need for practise runs, the timing of assessments and what happens if you do worse in these assessments than your previous work would predict.  We have developed an approach to implementing remote assessment (below) to address these issues. We have also put in place a safety net that will ensure your 2019-20 academic year performance will not disadvantage you.  You can find more details here.

The expertise and experience across College in education technology and remote learning gives us confidence to support remote assessment. The Business School started remote learning ten years ago and has been piloting remote assessment in their master’s programmes for three years now. The Faculty of Medicine successfully ran the first all online examinations for their MBBS students this year, satisfying the General Medical Council. The Department of Computing successfully completed examinations remotely in the first week of the transition period.  We are learning from these experiences and sharing best practice across Departments to get this right.

We will continue to consult with Departments, Faculties and the ICU as we keep this policy under review.  And we will communicate with you more, through our webpages, our daily updates, via email, and via social media. Your Departments will contact you directly as they put their plans in place.

We will get through the present crisis, and we will look forward to seeing you thrive and help us reshape the world that will be there.

Best wishes to you, your families, partners, friends and loved ones. Stay well, and stay in touch.


Implementing remote assessments

The move to remote assessment introduces new challenges, as well as the additional stress from unfamiliarity.  We have addressed these in the following ways.

  • Practise runs. These will be opportunities to try out the submission process they are using and to test that you have access to the internet, the applications and packages needed for the exams, and are familiar with the system and the process before the formal assessment date.  This will allow Departments to identify problems arising from the practise runs and do all they can to mitigate them.
  •  The timed remote assessments will take place simultaneously at the time determined by the Department, but we will be flexible in their starting times, so that students can take these assessments at a reasonable time of the day for their time zone. Where students feel that they are particularly disadvantaged by their time zone, they should submit a case under the Mitigating Circumstances Procedure.
  •  We will be more flexible in the use of the Mitigating Circumstances Policy. We have extended the mitigation circumstances criteria to accommodate COVID-19 related issues.
  •  We will implement a safety net policy We have also put in place a safety net that will ensure your 2019-20 academic year performance will not disadvantage you.  For MBBS students, we will pay particular attention to the regulatory requirements and constraints set by the GMC.  For postgraduate taught students, we will apply the policy as far as possible and we are working with your Departments to find alternative methods of delivery for coursework, both teaching and assessment.
  •  We have adjusted our support mechanisms to ensure we can support you while you work remotely.  You can find more information at You are encouraged to continue to make contact with your Senior Tutors or equivalent, if you have concerns.

We know that an unsupervised examination opens the opportunity for cheating. One of the reasons we opted for time-limited exams is that this minimizes such opportunity. Further, vivas may be used as an additional assessment tool to help assure results, in addition to their use by some Departments as a form of assessment in their own right.

But most importantly, we trust you to act with integrity.  We expect that you will not give or receive help from others in the examinations and adhere to the academic integrity guidance and associated policies. These are the standards we hold as a community, and which you and your fellow students deserve.

 Project-based assessments and research degrees

Several masters degree courses have a laboratory- or field-based component, including some that are research projects. We are acutely aware of the impact of COVID-19 on these, and we are working with your Departments to find suitable alternatives, in particular for project work undertaken in the Summer Term and over the summer.

 If you are undertaking an experimental thesis project for your PhD, we cannot yet confirm when you will have access to a laboratory. We know that this will impact your progress, and we have made sure that the regulations for your degrees take into account the impact of COVID-19 so that you can meet your programme requirements.  We are working with your Departments and with the funding agencies to mitigate the effects of this delay on projects funded by grants.