Postgraduate research students will be able to study remotely in Lent due to 'exceptional reasons'Lucas Maddalena

 The University updated their advice (27/11) on what is to be considered ‘exceptional circumstances’ for postgraduate research students (PGRs), and will now allow PGRs to apply to study remotely, after ‘months of lobbying’ by the Cambridge’s Students’ Union (CSU).

The ‘exceptional reasons’ which would allow a PGR student to study remotely have been expanded to include ‘inability to access university facilities,’ subject to the approval of the student’s supervisor and College.

The CSU said in a statement (30/11) that “given our experience of Michaelmas and the likely continuation of pandemic measures after the vacation, this is a condition that will apply to the large majority of students in Lent.”

More broadly, the CSU “also want[s] to ensure that this policy change results, in practice, in the flexibility that PGRs have been asking for,” the statement continued.

This forms part of the CSU’s ’#DemandSafeCambridge’ campaign, which, earlier in the year, called for an ‘opt-in system for face-to-face contact hours’ and ‘lower evidence requirements’ for intermission, deferral, and double-time (where a student studies part-time for health reasons).

In order for permission to be granted, the revised policy states that remote working must be in the ‘best interests’ of both the student and their research, and they must be able to continue their research ‘without the need for additional provision.’ Permission will be ‘granted for a limited period of at the most one term at a time.’

Previously, the policy was the same for all students, whereby they could apply to study remotely due to increased susceptibility to infectious diseases (ISID), ‘difficulties travelling to Cambridge due to travel restrictions,’ or if studying in Cambridge will have an ‘adverse impact on mental health.’ According to the CSU statement, this includes ‘anxiety about health risks,’ the ‘negative impact of isolation’ or ‘lack of support within Cambridge.’

The policy for undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate-taught (PGT) students remains unchanged, regardless of whether students have any in-person teaching. In a social media post,  the CSU promised to ‘continue [the] push for student choice over the coming vacation.’

The University told Varsity that “Cambridge has been providing high quality education through a mix of in-person and online teaching,” and that the “policies...have been drawn up in consultation with the Cambridge Student Union.”

In spite of this, CSU has introduced a form through which students can ‘send your Christmas message to Stephen Toope,’ in the hopes that the changes made for PGRs can be extended to all students. The form invites students to provide their view on remote study, which will be sent to the Vice-Chancellor of the University before Christmas.


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The CSU form states: “We believe you deserve the freedom to choose where it’s best for you to study in these exceptional circumstances, and you shouldn’t be penalised whether you want to study in College, elsewhere in the UK or around the globe.” The form is accompanied by a graphic entitled “All I want for Christmas is Toope [to let us study where we choose]”.

The policy revision comes after “Stephen Toope told students that staying within the city is central to the experience students have at the University” at an open meeting with students earlier this month (09/11).

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