Oxford and Cambridge move applicant interviews online amid coronavirus safety fears

30 June 2020, 20:47 | Updated: 30 June 2020, 20:49

Oxford and Cambridge will be moving their applicant interviews online this year
Oxford and Cambridge will be moving their applicant interviews online this year. Picture: PA
Ewan Somerville

By Ewan Somerville

Oxford and Cambridge universities have moved this year’s applicant interviews online amid the coronavirus crisis.

Thousands of candidates usually descend on the two institutions in December for an infamous grilling from top academics, spaced over several days.

They are normally required to stay overnight at top-flight colleges, but this year they will stay at home to be questioned likely via video conference.

Oxford said it was prioritising safety amid “ongoing concerns” with the pandemic, while Cambridge said sixth formers will be asked to stay at home “in order to minimise Covid-related risks”.

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It is unclear whether other universities that hold face-to-face interviews, including Imperial College London, UCL, Exeter and York, will axe them this year.

The many other institutions that only interview applicants for competitive courses such as medicine and dentistry, may now follow suit in moving them online.

Cambridge said sixth formers will be asked to stay at home “in order to minimise Covid-related risks”
Cambridge said sixth formers will be asked to stay at home “in order to minimise Covid-related risks”. Picture: PA

Universities are grappling with how to press ahead next academic year safely. Cambridge and Bristol have moved all face-to-face lectures online until next summer, while Oxford and Manchester have told students lectures will stay virtual next term.

Many, including Oxford and Cambridge, plan to offer in-person seminar sessions, but are racing to install social distancing and hygiene regimes, including one-way systems, to welcome students back to campuses this autumn.

Oxford will also hold virtual open days on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Campuses have been shut since March with lectures, tutorials and exams shifted online - and university bosses are bracing for a huge financial hit with overseas students, who pay up to £26,000 a year in fees, expected to stay away.

An Oxford University spokesman said: “Interviews are a key part of forming a nuanced understanding of a student’s potential to flourish at Oxford and online interviews are already used with applicants for whom it is difficult to travel to Oxford.

“We are mindful though that extra support might be needed for some students and are working hard to put this in place, but we are confident that this move will allow us to continue to recruit talented students from all backgrounds.”

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A Cambridge spokesman said: “In order to minimise Covid-related risks to our applicants, students and staff in the coming undergraduate admissions round, we are making plans to interview applicants this year without requiring them to travel to Cambridge in December.

"We will release further details about alternative arrangements as soon as we can.”

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