Cambridge student union releases intermission guide as university reviews process

“Intermission” students who have to skip a term or a year at the University of Cambridge for a serious matter, medical or otherwise, will now have a guidance document to help them through the process, Varsity reports.

The unofficial guide published by the school’s Student Union (CUSU) is meant for students who are intermitting or planning to do so. The document prepares them on what to expect during the application process and also lists key contacts for advice. It is available on the Disabled Students’ Campaign website.

CUSU’s publication comes as the university carries out a review of its intermissions process, which is in part being conducted due to Varsity‘s investigation on the matter last year. The publication had in its probe revealed serious problems with the university’s old guidance, including alleged mishandling of mental health issues, archaic rules banning those who transmit from the city and the lack of support felt by returning students.

CUSU estimates around 200-250 students (graduate and undergraduate) intermit across Cambridge every year, with each student subjected to varying degrees of mistreatment or lack of support by the school.

The problem, however, is reportedly not unique to Cambridge, which is one of the UK’s top schools. According to a report by The Guardian, students from the University of Oxford spoke of similar unhelpful reactions from the school for their “rustication”, which is Oxford’s equivalent to Cambridge’s “intermission”.

The findings, according to Varsity, prompted Cambridge’s Welfare & Finance committee to study current practices and form a working group to “usefully inform the dissemination of best practice across colleges”, particularly for students who had to take an exam upon their return.

Last Tuesday, CUSU/Graduate Union Welfare Officer Sophie Buck presented a paper written by the union’s disabled students’ officer Jessica Wing to the working group on how to improve the intermission process based on students’ suggestions.

The proposals included more proactive tutors checking up on intermitting students, clearer guidance on the intermissions experience and better communication between faculty and students during the whole process.

Wing told Varsity the paper was “well-received” and that the suggestions “were deemed constructive”.

On the widespread practice of imposing exams on returning students, the university reportedly defended it as necessary to determine if the students were ready to return. Buck, however, insisted it was “effectively discrimination” against disabled students as it requires them “to get into Cambridge twice”.

According to Wing, the group will make “recommendations on the practice surrounding exams”.

“It’s too early to say what these recommendations will look like – but they will stress the importance of fairness.”

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