Strike action has caused disruption to teaching throughout Lent termMathias Gjesdal Hammer

The University has confirmed that faculty heads will have the power to make changes to examinations – such as potentially shortening exam length and altering or removing questions – following disruption to teaching during the recent staff strikes.

The University has circulated guidance among faculties, offering examples of possible changes to examinations which include the removal of questions about material which has not been taught, suggesting these are replaced by questions on content unaffected by the industrial action.

They offer the option of “changing the form and conduct of exams”, potentially through altering the number of questions set or removing restrictions on compulsory questions. Faculties have also been given the opportunity to set aside typical regulations for the upcoming exam period, for example through shortening examinations from their standard 3-hour length.

Lent term saw fourteen days of escalating industrial action by members of the University and College Union (UCU), prompting concerns regarding teaching missed due to the cancellation of lectures and supervisions. This industrial action was triggered by a pensions reform proposal from Universities UK (UUK), which would see ‘defined benefit’ pension schemes replaced with ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes for those on incomes below £55,000. External examiners, responsible for moderating marking, have also resigned from their posts as part of the dispute.


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In a statement, the University confirmed the existence of “long-standing procedures to mitigate the impact of disruption to examinations on individual students,” and spoke of a commitment to “maintaining fairness to candidates at all times while upholding the integrity of the examination process.” They noted that in the majority of cases “no change to assessment will be required”.

A spokesperson said, however, that “the University will not be reducing the pass mark or amending classing boundaries, since this will undermine the integrity of the examination process.”

Ultimately, they emphasised, responsibility for examination changes lies with individual faculties: “it is up to Heads of Department to discuss with examiners and decide if amendments to examinations may be appropriate based on the level of disruption experienced.”

In an email sent earlier this month to English students, Professor Peter de Bolla, on behalf of the Chairs and Assistant Chairs to 2018 Boards of Examiners, affirmed that “at the present time we envisage no change to the examination papers”, reassuring students that “while it is recognised that some lectures and classes have been affected by industrial action the range of questions set on each paper will, as usual, allow candidates to present materials falling within the scope of any individual paper.”


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Meanwhile, Grae Worster, Chair of the Mathematics Faculty Board, emailed students to declare that content and material “remain definitive for examination”, noting “it is possible, therefore, that some questions in the examinations will relate to material that has not been lectured.”

This comes in the wake of external examiner resignations which have raised questions over how grading will be moderated. At least 17 external examiners for Cambridge papers have joined hundreds of academic staff across the UK in resigning from their positions as part of the ongoing industrial action, aiming to increase pressure on universities during negotiations between UUK and the University and College Union (UCU).

Further strike action will be arranged for next term, unless a resolution is reached between UCU and UUK, with UCU members set to vote next week on whether to accept UUK’s latest proposals.

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