Edinburgh University students want guarantee they can choose delayed in-person graduations rather than online ceremonies

Students at Edinburgh University are seeking a guarantee they can choose to delay their graduation ceremonies this summer so they can have them in-person rather than just online.

Friday, 5th February 2021, 7:00 am
Happier times: Edinburgh University graduates celebrate after a ceremony in the McEwan Hall. Pic Ian Rutherford

They launched a campaign after receiving an email on Wednesday from university vice-principal Professor Colm Harmon saying all graduation ceremonies due this year had been cancelled and offering an online celebration as the only option.

Students Jack Manners, George Baverstock, Will Kemp and Ben Henderson started a petition demanding students should be able to choose between accepting a virtual graduation or delaying their ceremony until an in-person event was possible. As of Thursday lunchtime the petition had attracted 293 signatures.

And a Facebook page set up at the same time gained 626 members within 21 hours.

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Edinburgh University's McEwan Hall usually hosts numerous graduation ceremonies each year Pic Lisa Ferguson

Now the university appears to have done a partial U-turn and is saying students will be invited to an in-person ceremony when it is safe to do so.

A post on the university website says: “We want to ensure you have the opportunity to celebrate your achievements with your cohort and your parents and supporters. Please be assured that you will be invited to attend an in-person ceremony within the McEwan Hall when it is safe to resume.

“With current social distancing requirement, the capacity of McEwan Hall has reduced from 1800 to 138 people. Ceremonies are expected to resume when we are able to have a minimum of 500 people within the Hall and current plans are to hold a series of additional weeks throughout the year in 2021, but this is dependent on Scottish Government guidance.

Jack Manners, of the Edinburgh Graduation Campaign, welcomed the apparent change of heart but said last year’s students who had opted to delay their graduation ceremonies had been left in the dark and so called for guarantees about how the university was going to ensure the in-person ceremonies do happen.

Campaigners say last year's graduates who said they wanted an in-person ceremony still don't know what's happening

He said: “We’re not really sure if the university saying they want to offer in-person graduations as soon as they can means that applies to next year’s graduate class or if it means they are going to honour the offer they made to the class of 2020 and if that applies to us.

"Crucially what we want is an independent committee to be set up by the university to ensure a dialogue can be maintained after students graduate because that’s where the 2020 graduates have been really left behind.”

The campaign has published an open letter to the vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson voicing their disappointment at the original email unilaterally cancelling in-person ceremonies and outlining what it believes should happen next.

A university spokeswoman said: “We regret that we are not presently able to have in-person graduation ceremonies due to Covid restrictions. Instead, we are working on plans to celebrate with our graduates virtually.

“We are keen to have in-person celebrations as soon as possible. How and when events will take place is dependent on a number of factors including Scottish Government guidance. Once the situation is clearer, we will be able to share plans."

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