Information for students on 'amber' and 'red' phase of contingency planning, and how these will affect teaching, assessment and visas.

Dear students,

It is now clear that the public health emergency we find ourselves in because of coronavirus (COVID-19) will have disruptive effects on all of us. During this period of uncertainty, my colleagues at the University and in the Colleges and I are working to take all necessary steps to plan for likely disruption to teaching and assessment. I am writing now on behalf of the entire Collegiate University.

The University has identified two situations for contingency planning: amber and red. The University has determined that we are now in amber.

Amber reflects the delay phase now announced by the Government, and requires measures to delay the spread of the coronavirus. This means that, at the moment, we envisage that business will continue as usual as far as reasonably possible, save for large group meetings (we are judging a large group to be 50 people or above) and mechanisms are being put into place to reduce social interaction. I have asked Faculties and Departments to continue to provide teaching and assessment for students as far as is reasonably practicable, but some of this will be moved to online provision. It is important to remember that the University and all its facilities, including libraries, learning spaces and laboratories, will remain open for students who choose to remain here and to enable core University business to continue, including research, administration, maintenance and student and staff support. We do not anticipate closing any facilities unless required to do so to maintain health and safety, or if advised to do so by Public Health England.

If  - but it is a big if - we remain in Amber into the Easter Term, which begins in late April, we would anticipate that small group teaching and supervision would continue, and there will be enhanced measures for online teaching, including the use of lecture capture, Skype, Moodle, MS Teams (which will be made available to the entire Collegiate University on Wednesday 18 March). In this situation, examinations and assessment would continue as planned wherever possible; consideration will be given to numbers sitting in a single venue. The University has a robust examination allowance system to take account of personal circumstances (including illness and self-isolation), and would keep under review the examination timetable and locations.

We must also however prepare for moving into a red situation, in which much of the University will need to close. I stress we are not there yet, but must prepare for the prospect of it and possibly soon. In view of the increasing frequency of updates to Government plans, and of the rapid changes to travel and other aspects of normal social functioning now being imposed by international governments, there could be very little notice of this change. In this situation, students will not return after the Easter vacation, or, if in Cambridge, will return home where possible, and if not able to do so they will be accommodated in their College. Students who must remain in Cambridge will be supported by their College, but all Colleges will likely be operating at a reduced capacity in terms of catering and housekeeping staff, and must prioritise and make best use of their resources to support those who need it most.

In red, there will be no face-to-face teaching: all teaching will be conducted remotely. Faculties and Departments are making plans to deliver this in the best way possible, using a range of methods including lecture capture, online/video conferencing and Moodle, recognising the needs of students in different locations and international contexts.

I understand that students will be concerned about this as regards the impact on their exams. We are working out the details of this but I wanted to share with you as early as possible what the current planning is. The core principles we are adopting are: to maintain academic rigour; to ensure fairness; to enable learning outcomes to be met; to ensure that the assessment process is as simple as possible and to respond to the specific needs of students, particularly disabled students.

Undergraduate and postgraduate taught courses: Faculties and departments are considering ways to allow examinations to be taken online as open book examinations, or by adopting other methods of assessment, which may include: extended essays, portfolio of essays, vivas through video-conferencing. We intend to use Moodle Assignment as the main platform for conducting online exams. We realise that you will have many questions about how on-line exams will operate. We are working on the details of this in discussion with Faculties and Departments and we will ensure that all students are informed of the nature of the assessment which will take place next term by 31 March.

Post-graduate research students: At this stage you can continue to conduct your research in Cambridge, but this may change at short notice. For those of you near to submission, PhD and MPhil theses may be submitted by Moodle and vivas can be conducted by video-conferencing. Research students should be aware that there may be a time when they are unable to continue with research activities within laboratories and libraries, which may have to close. If you are asked to leave Cambridge then any residency requirements will not apply but it is important that you continue to apply for permission to work away, so that we know where you are.

Additional information for Tier 4 students: The UK Home Office recognises the current situation is exceptional and has stated that no action will be taken against students on Tier 4 visas who are unable to be in attendance as a result of the coronavirus in the coming weeks.

I am aware that this message still leaves some significant uncertainty, but I want to be open with you that this is a changing situation and we are reacting to advice from the government on how we should respond to coronavirus. You will continue to receive updates like this one regularly from me. Your College will continue to send you details on local arrangements, and, along with the University’s webpages on coronavirus which we are continuing to develop as a matter of urgency, should be your first point of reference for any questions. As ever, your Tutor, Senior Tutor and College Nurse are available for practical, pastoral and academic support. If you are concerned about financial hardship as a result of changes to your living arrangements, you should contact your Senior Tutor.

Please remember, if you have flu-like symptoms (fever above 37.8C or a new and persistent cough) you should self-isolate (stay at home, away from other people) for seven days. It is important to remember the most severely affected people are the elderly with underlying health conditions. The majority of people who will have contracted the virus will recover in full and most cases are mild.

Coronavirus is, I know, a source of anxiety for many people. If you need support, please talk to your Tutor or access other support in your College, and please be assured that the University is continuing to work hard to contain and minimise the disruption to your education.

With very best wishes,

Graham Virgo

Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor (Education)


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