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Bristol University students plea for final year exams to be optional amid coronavirus pandemic

By ellie pipe, Tuesday Mar 17, 2020

Final year Bristol University students have warned the culmination of their studies “is being ripped from under them” in an open letter to the vice-chancellor.

They are appealing for Hugh Brady to make final exams and essays optional in the wake of lecturers strikes and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, both of which have significantly disrupted studies.

More than 840 students have added their names to the open letter, which has been circulated around the entire student body, saying there is growing concern about the academic, social, mental and physical impact of coronavirus.

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University bosses responded, saying they completely understand the concerns raised over the “unprecedented and evolving situation” but that the health and wellbeing of everyone is top priority.

As it currently stands, exams and assessments are not cancelled but they say they are focusing energy on putting alternative provisions in place.

The letter to Hugh Brady says: “We, as final year students, are at a total and complete loss. Our anxiety festers as we await any concrete information about our academic status. We thus want you to know the full extent that this virus has and will have on our lives in particular.

“Across the university, the lives of final year students are being torn in half. The long-awaited culmination of our studies has been ripped from under us. The promise of goodbyes, hugs and joyous libations no longer exists.

“Everything we have grown to love over the past three or four years – our subjects, our friends, our partners, our teachers, our city – has been taken away from us. For most of us, it is ill-advised and too dangerous to travel, and some of us are banned from going home entirely.

“We sit, isolated in our flats, terrified of our futures, terrified of this virus and terrified to be alone. We are left unsupported, disconnected, confused and unprepared for what’s to come.

“We know it may be a challenge to implement emergency policies, but this is what you must do. This is an extraordinary situation, and it calls for extraordinary solutions. We are therefore imploring you to make final exams and essays optional for students – students should be able to choose to take their mark ‘as is’ or complete an exam/essay if they are able/want to improve their mark.”

The students argue that strikes mean they have only had five weeks of taught classes, with a minimum of two taught online. They say personal engagement is vital.

The letter outlines the dangers associated with visiting libraries during the coronavirus pandemic and the external factors exacerbated by recent events.

As a final plea, they urge the vice chancellor to consider the financial implications and ask him to consider refunding each student the equivalent amount of at least four weeks tuition because of the cancelled classes and restricted access to resources.

Responding, professor Sarah Purdy, pro vice-chancellor for student experience, said: “We completely understand the concerns raised by students and are taking all possible steps to keep students and staff safe. This is an unprecedented and evolving situation but the health and wellbeing of our community is the university’s top priority.

“We are working hard to make sure we put appropriate measures in place so that education outcomes remain as unaffected as possible. These arrangements are different for each student, so it is important any queries or concerns are raised with personal tutors, supervisors or schools.

“As it currently stands, exams and assessments are not cancelled but we are now focusing our energy on putting alternative provisions in place. As soon as we are able, we will share further details and guidance.

“On Friday we announced a number of measures to safeguard our whole community, slow the potential spread of the coronavirus, and protect our academic mission. This includes ending teaching for this current term on Wednesday, March 18 and a move towards online teaching and assessment for the remainder of the academic year.

“The university’s wellbeing support for both our students and our staff will remain available throughout the extended Easter vacation. We would urge anyone who is worried or anxious about this extraordinary situation to please reach out and get in touch.”

The university is issuing updates via www.bristol.ac.uk/students/coronavirus/.

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