The pandemic that we are currently experiencing is unprecedented and brings with it a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability. At first, no one could have anticipated the scope and intensity of the outbreak and that made it hard for the universities all around the world to handle.
UCL’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak
For students on campus
The spread in the UK was slightly delayed compared to the rest of Europe and this might have provided universities with some insight on how to handle the situation. Contrarily to other countries like France or Italy, the universities in the UK took individual decisions independently from the government. University College London -UCL, for instance, decided to shut down and move to online teaching on the 13th of March. Other institutions had different approaches and closed earlier/later. On the same day, UCL decided to cancel all desk exams in May and replace them with alternative assessments online.
A few days later, all first-year exams and remaining assessments were cancelled. Instead, first-year students will have to submit a “capstone assessment” -which will vary depending on the department- to reflect their progression throughout their first year.
Assessments such as essays and exams are maintained for Year 2 and Year 3 students, although the exams were replaced by alternative assessment methods.
UCL also encouraged their departments to have recourse to assessment mitigation, such as extensions, subject’s exclusion, change of the task and of the assessment type. Students can also apply for Extenuating Circumstances without having to submit supporting evidence.
UCL also introduced a “no detriment” policy, so no student would be penalised by the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in today.
In addition to the academic steps it has taken, UCL is offering financial help to its students in the form of Emergency Assistance Grants.
For students abroad
UCL has been very proactive in staying in close contact with all of its students that were on their year/semester abroad. At the beginning of the outbreak, they first emailed students with tips and guidance on how to stay safe and travel advice.
It is hard to handle such a situation from far and they handled it very well. Once the pandemic was spreading more to Europe, the first students that were told to leave their country of exchange were the ones studying in Italy (09/03). A few days later (13/03), UCL strongly advised all of its students abroad to leave their placement and return to the UK or to their home country. Along with that, they assured students abroad that their flight ticket costs would be covered by them and that they would not be penalised academically.
They, later on, encouraged students to follow online classes if there were any but guaranteed them that either way, they would receive the number of credits they were supposed to receive under normal circumstances.
In sum, UCL reacted quickly and efficiently to the COVID outbreak and continues to take further measures to adapt to the evolving situation. It closed quite early compared to other universities in the UK, which really shows how the university is prioritising its students’ and staff wellbeing. It is also worth mentioning that some UCL engineering students along with clinicians at UCL developed a breathing aid for COVID-19 patients, which was approved for use by the NHS.