Student and Staff Wellbeing

Covid-19 Update - 24 March 2020

Covid-19 Update Message to taught programme students - 24 March 2020

Lucy Backhurst, Academic Registrar shares the latest updates with taught programme students.

Dear taught programme students,

Please find below today’s update. It’s quite long, but it provides important information about the changes we are making following Boris Johnson’s “tougher measures” announcement last night.

It also sets out the University’s approach to assessment in Semester 2, and gives you information about our developing plans for 2020 graduation.   

New Government advice

As I’m sure you know, last night in an address from Downing Street, Boris Johnson introduced drastic measures to tackle the spread of Coronavirus. These measures included a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and advice to leave home only where “absolutely necessary”. This will undoubtedly bring big changes for you in terms of university life, and for us all in terms of how we all lead our daily lives.

We must all take the information on social distancing very seriously for the sake of ourselves, our families and our NHS front line staff, as I’m sure you will.

We recognise that for our students who have no choice but to stay on campus or indeed in Newcastle, this is a particularly difficult time, and you may well be feeling isolated if you’re unable to return home or see friends and family.  We are establishing a new scheme pairing our students with a staff member, for some companionship and individual communications during this difficult time.  If this would be of aid to you, or if there is anything more we can do, then please let me know via and we will do what we can to support you. 

To remind you, NUSU have set up a Covid-19 Community Facebook group (Newcastle University: Covid-19 Community) and pastoral support is available from Student Health and Wellbeing via email:

For those of you who were planning to go home in the next few days, we have checked with Public Health England and they have said that this constitutes essential travel, so you are free to do so.

Changes to assessment

I am aware from your questions that many of you are keen to have information about the approach we are taking to assessment in Semester 2.

In these circumstances there is no perfect solution, but what has been approved by the University’s Executive Board, following consultation with the NUSU sabbatical officers, is a pragmatic response that balances the need to ensure:

  • the integrity of our/your degrees and the value of our/your awards;
  • an appropriate level of student engagement with the learning opportunities we are providing now that we have moved to remote delivery; 
  • trying not to over-burden our students and staff

I appreciate that you are also likely to be aware of other Universities’ approaches to assessment of their students in these challenging times. Each institution, like our own, will be taking difficult decisions, which reflect local circumstances and priorities. For us the continued engagement of you, our taught students, is a priority since you have just under 4 weeks of your learning and teaching timetable still to complete.  It is essential that you have opportunities to engage with your teaching but also have the opportunities through assessment to continue to engage and receive feedback on your learning.

The approach
All students in all stages will undergo assessment during Semester 2, and, at present, the dates of the examination period remain unchanged as follows:


Monday 18 May 2020 to Friday 5 June 2020
(including Saturday 23 May and Saturday 30 May). 

If it is necessary to make any changes to these dates, you will be notified as soon as possible.

Please note: Exam dates for programmes with external accreditation may vary.  Please await further information your school.

All assessments will take place remotely (no face to face on-campus examinations).

We have asked each school / subject to choose one of the two following options for delivery of exam-based assessments remaining for each module in the remainder of this academic year:

  1. An alternative assessment: This would replace the exams currently scheduled with a piece of coursework, assessing those learning outcomes that have not been assessed.
  2. A 24 hour “take home exam”: This will be made available to students to download through Blackboard, the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), with students submitting their answers through the VLE.

More detailed information on these options, and the many questions I’m sure you’ll have, are available in the Frequently Asked Questions.  The approach is a University-wide position, which will be implemented flexibly and pragmatically in each schools/subject area. We are aware that there are a number of issues linked to this approach that will need further consideration –discussions will take place in the next two weeks after which, staff in your school / subject area will contact you to give you more information. 

For students who are experiencing particular issues, those who get ill as a result of this situation or who have difficult personal circumstances that may affect their examinations, the FAQs give more information on the different forms that will be available for you to tell us, so that we can take appropriate action. 

Graduation Ceremonies

In my message last Tuesday (17 March) I told you about the postponement of the summer graduation ceremonies until later in the year, given the likelihood that the disruption caused by Covid-19 is likely to extend beyond the examination period.

We are now planning for ceremonies to be held at the end of November/early December 2020 by which time we anticipate (hope) that major restrictions in terms of social distancing and travel will have been removed.

As I mentioned last week, you’re not required to attend a ceremony in order to graduate – the ceremony is just to celebrate your achievements. Our plan is to issue the formal degree parchments as planned in summer 2020, with hard copies of degree parchments posted out to students. We will give you more information closer to the time.

Computing clusters closed

Public Health England this morning advised us that we must now close all our computer clusters and the King’s Gate building for physical access.  We recognise that this may create issues for students who may not have access to computing facilities.


Finally, we know that the current situation has meant a significant change for everyone as well as a loss of routine and an increase in the unknown, all of which can be stressful. It is vital therefore that you look after yourself at a time like this. As you know, our Student Health and Wellbeing Services are all available to you remotely, but not everyone will want or need to access formal therapy. You may be interested instead in the iNCLude app which comes recommended by our Wellbeing team. It has many new features specifically developed to help you adapt to this new situation. You may also want to take advantage of our online CBT platform, Silvercloud, which provides you with techniques designed to help you manage stress and anxiety.

An important part of self-care is staying active. Sport England have released some workouts you can do indoors, so you may want to visit their website for some suggestions on how to stay active.  

Remember for those of you close to campus, the Coop store NUSU remains open to provide essential supplies to students and staff.  All other NUSU services are available online only.  

If you have any further questions that are not addressed by my emails or the FAQs, please get in touch at: 


With best wishes,   

Lucy Backhurst

Academic Registrar