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Cancel all non-essential exams, says NUS

Union wants ‘flexible solutions’ following Covid-19 disruption

The National Union of Students has called for all “non-essential” exams for first and second year undergraduates to be cancelled.

The union is asking universities to find “flexible solutions” to enable these students to progress to the next stage of their degree, and says that final year students—either undergraduate or taught postgraduate—should be able to choose between receiving a grade based on current attainment, or be offered a “flexible submission deadline” for remaining assignments.

Students should all have the option to extend their time in education to complete their degrees, the union says—though this “should absolutely be at no cost to the student, and further discussions should begin on the financial support available for students to do this”.

A levels and GCSEs have already been cancelled in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with their equivalents in Scotland, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Claire Sosienski-Smith, NUS vice-president for higher education, said it was “vital that there are no compulsory exams this year” in higher education settings.

“Many students are unable to engage with their learning fully, due to a variety of factors, including lack of equipment to support distance learning, caring commitments, stress, anxiety and precarious housing,” she said in a statement.

“We know that disabled students are being hugely impacted by the pandemic, facing the loss of both university-provided and NHS support, a lack of reasonable adjustments to access online teaching, as well as struggles with accommodation. We’re therefore calling for practice which is motivated by student welfare and student choice, giving students control over their education, ensuring progression and completion when they desire it.”

She said the stakes were “much higher” for final year students, both undergraduates and taught postgrads. “It is vital that each of these students is given a choice on how to proceed with their education.”

A spokeswoman Universities UK said that institutions were looking at a “a variety of options to ensure that students are fairly assessed for their work and that qualifications can be awarded securely”.

“The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education is updating guidance weekly that supports providers in maintaining academic standards and quality in this, while guidance has also been sent by the OfS to universities outlining their regulatory requirements and expectations on issues of teaching and assessment,” she said. “Universities will be led by this guidance.”

In a letter to students sent on Friday, universities minister Michelle Donelan said she was “very aware” that many students would be worried about what Covid-19 outbreak means for final exams.

“The Office for Students will produce guidance shortly on practical ways by which you can complete your studies whilst ensuring quality and standards are maintained,” she said.

“This will cover teaching, continued learning and assessment during this difficult time. It is important that providers support you and enable you to leave with qualifications that have real value and that reflect your hard work and allow you to progress. I can assure you that we are working closely with the QAA to ensure this happens.”

Today is the first day of the 2020 NUS Annual Conference, which is taking place online.