EU regulations set to defeat Cambridge University’s 300-year-old ‘class list’ tradition

The European Union is set to defeat Cambridge’s 300-year-old “class list” tradition as incoming regulation has forced the climbdown that “snowflake” students could not.

The lists – where students’ names are displayed alongside their degree grade on a board outside the university’s main building Senate House – now face abolition due to new data protection laws which will come into force next year.  

The issue has led to bitter divisions among the student body, but class lists survived votes of confidence from both students and academic staff last year.

The referendums came amid pressure from campaigners who argued that class lists were “damaging” to welfare, triggered depression and “promoting a culture of shaming”.

Now the tradition is under fresh threat from new EU laws which place greater emphasis on “active consent” of subjects, rather than presumed consent.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), due to come into effect in May 2018, the university may be legally required to ask for students’ consent over whether they want their grades to be published.

Cambridge University’s council, which is chaired by vice-chancellor Stephen Toope, has backed a proposal to allow students to have their names easily removed from result lists through a simple tick-box option.

The final stage is for the proposal to be approved by Regent House, but Graham Virgo, pro-vice-chancellor for education, has told the student newspaper Varsity that it is “anticipated” that the new opt-out system will be in place by May, when the next examination period begins.

Currently students can only opt out if they provide a valid medical reason for it and the university has to authorise it. In a student referendum last November, 55 per cent said they wanted the student union to campaign to keep the tradition alive, and the following month academic staff followed suit in their own vote.

The class list issue has led to bitter divisions among the student body

The class list issue has led to bitter divisions among the student body

Pressure to get rid of the tradition began in 2015 when a campaign called ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ called for students to have the choice to opt out of the lists without having to provide a reason.

They argued that the lists were “damaging” to the welfare of students, triggering depression and “promoting a culture of shaming”.

But the prospect of their abolition deeply divided students, with an opposing campaign, titled Save the Class List, arguing that it is a “fantastic tradition”, part and parcel of attending an ancient university.

Cambridge is one of the very last universities in the country to hold such a tradition, with Oxford getting rid of its public exam results tables in 2009.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.   Universities UK met with the Information Commissioner’s Office this week to discuss the GDPR.   

A spokesman said that Universities UK will be working with the ICO over the coming months to make sure universities understand and comply with these new rules.  

A spokesman for Cambridge University said: “A proposal has been put forward for any student to be able to opt out from having their name published in a class list outside the Senate House and in the Reporter, without needing to disclose reasons for the opt out.

 “If approved by the Regent House, the proposal will be available for the main examination period (commencing 21 May 2018), once systems have been updated.”

The spokesman said the move was “in the light of the General Data Protection Regulation coming into effect in May 2018”, and following a consultation with students. 

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