COVID-19: What does it mean for Graduations and Final Exams?

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Coronavirus has swept the nation and disrupted everyone’s lives beyond belief, from NHS staff to school children, everyone is feeling the effects.

Someone feeling those effects in particular is final year university student Helena.

Helena has had her graduation cancelled, all of her exams cancelled and all of the traditional celebrations around the end of exams cancelled too.

So, what is it like to be a final year student, having the rest of your life ahead of you, dealing with this pandemic?

According to Helena, having graduation and University disrupted is only the start.

“There will be no final May Week at the end of exam term, when Quiet Period ends and students celebrate the end of the intense examination period with balls, garden parties, or picnics in the meadows around Cambridge. There will be no ‘Grad Week’, with the Graduation Dinner and ceremony at which we all get to come to terms with the end of the degree and say goodbye to each other.”

With the current Government advice discouraging people from non-essential travel, Helena was forced to move home from university suddenly, which left her feeling sad and somewhat guilty.

“I’ve been torn between two feelings. When I first got home after suddenly moving out, I was incredibly sad that I hadn’t been able to say goodbye to everybody, and that I would miss my final term and graduation. This was paired with guilt – I’m in a privileged position if that’s one of the things that I’m saddest about. Others will be far more affected by this pandemic. However, I think it is possible to mourn one’s personal losses and feel nostalgic for the future term that won’t happen, while at the same time being mindful and having that perspective that this isn’t the worst problem to have right now. So whilst there’s been sadness in the Cambridge community – the student newspaper Varsity has been publishing ‘Letters to Cambridge’ from students reminiscing on a year cut short – there’s also been mindfulness and solidarity with those who are the worst affected by this.”

Despite all of the disruption, she feels that her university has done well to cope with the changes, although working from her home will not be the same.

“Regarding the practical impact that the pandemic has had on my degree: I think that the university has done fairly well in trying to accommodate for as many students as possible. There were worries that online exams would disadvantage students in different timezones, or with poor internet or working facilities at home. Revising will also be difficult without access to the many Cambridge libraries.”

The university have taken into consideration this unprecedented time and have understood that the students maybe wont be able to focus as well or produce the standard of work they would have had this not happened.

“There was a general email telling us that the university would implement the ‘safety-net’ procedure, which means that all finalists would be awarded at least the class they were awarded in the previous year. For finalists who aren’t able to take exams this exam season because of their home situation, getting ill, or looking after ill family members, there will be an opportunity to take exams in the future. Not perfect, but probably the best the university could have come up with.”

These changes mean that Helena’s assessment has changed, and because of her previous work, she is confident she will be okay.

“Personally, what it means for me is that rather than submitting two coursework pieces and sitting three exams, I’ll be submitting the coursework pieces but sitting just one exam. Because I got a first last year, I know that I’ll be graduating with a first-class degree. I’m not kicking back and relaxing because of this, because the Masters offer I hold requires a score of 67 overall, and there hasn’t yet been any information on how the alternative assessments of different universities will be taken into account by the Graduate Admissions Office.”

Don’t forget, Meic is available from 8am until midnight every day, if you need to chat to someone about your uni, home or exam situation.

What Helena has noticed is that there has been an incredible amount of support from all universities and university students, especially final year students in providing resources and peer help with getting the work they need to do done.

“While the libraries are closed and we’re all scattered, there has been an incredible amount of student mobilisation in setting up support groups on Facebook, sharing notes and access to books, offering to proof-read each others’ dissertations… This solidarity has spread between universities, too; I’ve had friends offer me their institutional access in order to search for articles and books in their university’s online catalogues, and returned the favour. It’s heartening to see students looking out for each other and trying to mitigate the impact this is having on our work.”

With Covid-19 uncertainty undoubtedly causing a global recession, Helena is worried about her friends who were hoping to go into employment after they graduated.

“I’m hoping to stay in academia by doing a Masters degree and then PhD – it has crossed my mind that a global recession might impact research grants, but I’m more worried at the moment for my friends than for myself. Some friends have had their interviews and assessments for graduate schemes cancelled, and have no idea what they will do come graduation.”

COVID-19 has currently put the UK on lockdown, and no one is certain about the future. At this time, everyone is trying to do all they can to disrupt people’s lives as little as possible, however, we all need to make an effort to stay at home, and check on loved ones at this scary time.

Looking for more info? Get the latest updates and advice on our Coronavirus pages here.

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