There will be no graduation ceremonies for the remainder of the academic yearLouis Ashworth

In an email sent to all staff and students this afternoon, Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope encouraged all students ‘who successfully meet the requirements of their course’ to graduate in absence this summer.

Students always have an option to graduate in absentia, meaning that their degree is conferred without attending a ceremony in person. Travel restrictions and uncertainty arising from the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that all in-person graduation ceremonies would be cancelled ‘until further notice.’

Students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – will be offered a ceremony in the Senate House at a later date. A working group, which includes student representation, has been established to develop plans for a future celebration.

A University spokesperson told Varsity that “the University and the Colleges are together considering ways of celebrating students’ achievement in Cambridge once is it practical and safe to do so”.

Ordinarily, final-year undergraduate students graduate at a ‘General Admission’ ceremony held in June. Postgraduate students, particularly those completing their PhD, can choose to graduate at any of the Congregations held throughout the year.

Students will not be given their degree certificate without graduating.

By graduating in absentia now rather than waiting to attend a graduation ceremony at a later date, students will be provided with proof of study which is often required for further study or employment.

Students who do not want to graduate in absentia will be able to ‘defer their graduation until in-person Degree Congregations can resume as usual.’


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However, the Vice-Chancellor warned that Congregations possibly might not resume ‘for more than a year.’

Colleges are acting unanimously which provides clarification after students were previously offered different advice depending on their college. On Tuesday (12/05), final-year students at Emmanuel were advised to not graduate in absentia. Students were told: ‘we would advise you NOT to graduate in absence if you can possibly avoid it, as, formally speaking, you can only be admitted to your degree once’. Meanwhile, the Clare Hall website indicated that there would be no option to graduate in any format until October.

Prior to today’s announcement, students had raised concerns about not being able to attend a ceremony. Students told Varsity that graduation is a “great moment of the PhD journey” so it would be a “real shame” to not celebrate with a ceremony. Other students suggested that they may postpone graduating unless they were unable to begin a job without having their degree conferred.

The University spokesperson also said that they are putting in place “exceptional measures that will allow the University to continue conferring degrees” due to limited facilities to produce printed certificates during the lockdown. Instead of receiving a physical certificate, students will be able to access official transcripts online confirming that they have completed their degrees.

Today’s announcement follows other universities which announced their plans for graduation much earlier. In April, Oxford announced that students would have the choice to have degrees conferred in absentia or at a degree ceremony at a later date. This follows dissent against their earlier announcement that it would be mandatory for those who were registered to graduate in May to have their degrees conferred in absentia. In March, Durham University announced that Congregation ceremonies would be postponed, not cancelled.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following information and support is available:

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