UK universities split on return to in-person exams

Some institutions embracing in-person assessment again after lifting of Covid-19 regulations

April 27, 2022
Students taking an exam
Source: iStock

Some UK universities are planning a switch back to in-person assessment this summer, while others are keeping examinations largely online.

Many institutions are adopting a hybrid approach following the rescinding of Covid-19 regulations, running tests online if that is deemed best for students’ studies.

The mixed picture was revealed in a snap survey conducted by Times Higher Education ahead of the first assessment period to be conducted after two years of coronavirus-related restrictions.

Newcastle University said the majority of its exams would be in-person with “some exceptions”, such as if they had been online for many years or if the pandemic had shown that this method of assessment was more effective.

Queen’s University Belfast said 85 per cent of the 570 assessments due to be conducted this summer would take place on campus, after academic schools were offered a choice about which method to use.

The universities of York, Sheffield, Nottingham, Oxford and Cambridge all said they were adopting a mixed approach, with some in-person exams taking place alongside online assessments, as did the London School of Economics.

Meanwhile, the universities of Leeds and Edinburgh said they were keeping the majority of their exams online.

Colm Harmon, Edinburgh’s vice-principal (students), said a positive reaction to the use of digital platforms during the pandemic and “cautious planning” had led to the decision to keep most exams online this year. Yet he added that he thought digital assessment was here to stay because more traditional formats were no longer familiar to younger students.

“Many students are midway through a four- or five-year degree programme, and it is not clear what ‘normal’ is any more,” he said.

“Some students have not experienced a conventional exam, including during their time at secondary school, so we must be careful not to simply move back to ‘old style’ examinations without recognising the fear that some students may have of that.”

Professor Harmon argued that debates should focus not on whether exams were done digitally or in-person but rather on what might be the most effective way to assess student performance.

“We have learned a lot in the last two years on this issue, as much as on digital versus in-person assessment,” he said.

Jeff Grabill, Leeds’ deputy vice-chancellor for student education, said the institution was changing its approach to exams “to create a more flexible, inclusive and authentic assessment system”.

This includes online assessment that “will align more closely with the world of work and develop transferable skills that are more meaningful and useful for students”, he said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Whether a University adopts "In person" written, exam assessment or "on line" exam assessment (supervised or unsupervised) will impact individuals in different ways, as does course work assessment and exam assessment for A levels and GCSEs. Whatever the method of assessment, the more importnt elements are what is being assessed and why and is it fair?