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The awarding gaps for both of Cambridge's target student groups decreased between 2018-19 and 2019-20; in the case of Black students it nearly halved within just one year of the pandemic.

Following the publication of national APP data in 2019, there have been a number of analyses attributing the decrease in awarding gaps for disadvantaged groups as a result of universities’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, see the discussion of the impact of the pandemic on Black and BAME students' access to and participation in higher education (Universities UK 2021; Singh 2020), as well as findings from the Disabled Students Commission's study of disabled students' educational experiences (Advance HE 2021).

Some of the variables that may have impacted the narrowing of awarding gaps at Cambridge during the temporary shift to remote assessment include:

  • change of mode of assessment from in-person to online
  • change to the format of assessments, e.g. exams being open-book
  • introduction of a safety net, which could have an effect because (a) in some subjects students might have better results in year 2 than in year 3 or (b) because having safety net introduced significant psychological boost to enhance performance or (c) both
  • personal circumstance changes due to the pandemic

Because of the fluctuations, and the multiple factors that may have influenced them, it has been advised that the patterns of attainment by the targeted student cohorts illustrated by the examination results for the years 2018/2019 and 2029/2020 will not be reliable indicators of the awarding gap. However, some of the changes to assessment and course delivery during the pandemic would be worth further qualitative investigation, to determine whether or how they impacted on students’ academic performance.

The pandemic has been unprecedented for its impact on the delivery and experience of higher education, and fuller analyses of its impact on awarding gaps is still to follow. For the purposes of understanding the awarding gaps, carefull attention will be paid to changes to the delivery of teaching and modes of assessment. These factors will need to be taken into consideration before any conclusions are drawn about the longer-term impact of Covid-19 on closing the awarding gaps. In particular, it will be useful to learn lessons and explore whether any of the changes to education experienced by Black or disabled students during the pandemic may hold the key to closing the awarding gaps in the future.


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