Students have faced increased difficulty this year rescheduling exams due to Shavuot, with University Jewish Chaplaincy describing an “unusually high incidence” of problems.
The organisation, which works with Jewish students and universities across the country, said there had been 56 cases where its chaplains helped deal with exam clashes on Shavuot – but that five of those cases had proved extremely contentious.
“There aren’t many more exams that clashed this year than last year, but for some reason in three of four universities obtaining an agreement about how the clash should be dealt with has been particularly difficult,” said Sophie Dunoff, Chaplaincy’s chief operating officer.
It is the first time in her two years in the role where Ms Dunoff had found “some of the cases have just been completely intractable – on and on without reaching a resolution”.
The Shavuot festival often clashes with the summer exam period at UK universities.
Ms Dunoff said the five most difficult cases now appeared to have been solved, but “it’s been a really difficult few weeks, especially for those students who filled out all the right forms at the right time only to be told a few weeks before their exam, ‘sorry, there’s not much we can do’”.
She said it was often the case that it was not a university as an institution which was at fault, but a department head or exams officer who had not been briefed.
However this year some universities were “saying things that were clearly discriminatory – ‘ok, you can take the exam, but you’ll have to take it in August, when everybody else is doing their retakes, and because you’re doing it when the retakes are happening you won’t have another opportunity to retake it’.”
Ms Dunoff described how last Sunday morning she had driven a student to university to take an exam; he had stayed with Rabbi Gavin Broder, the London region Jewish chaplain, for the previous 24 hours under strict monitoring conditions, because the university had scheduled the exam for Shabbat.
“We do not expect universities to avoid scheduling exams on Shabbat or festivals,” she said.
“The only expectation we have is that universities work with us to find a suitable alternative.”