London: The UK's prestigious Cambridge University is mulling scrapping an over 800-year-old practice of handwritten exams in favour of using laptops or iPads due to the deterioration in students' handwriting.

A growing reliance on laptops has led to students' writing becoming increasingly illegible, academics said. The move would see an end to more than 800 years of tradition after students increasingly chose to use laptops to take down lecture notes. Cambridge University has now launched a consultation on the topic as part of its "digital education strategy", having already piloted an exam typing scheme in the History and Classics faculties earlier this year. Dr Sarah Pearsall, a senior lecturer at Cambridge's History Faculty who was involved with the pilot earlier this year, said that handwriting is becoming a "lost art" among the current generation of students.

"Fifteen or twenty years ago students routinely have written by hand several hours a day - but now they write virtually nothing by hand except exams," she told the daily. "As a faculty, we have been concerned for years about the declining handwriting problem. There has definitely been a downward trend. It is difficult for both the students and the examiners as it is harder and harder to read these scripts," she said.

Pearsall said that an increasing number of scripts are having to be transcribed centrally, meaning that students with illegible writing are forced to come back to their college during the summer holidays to read their answers aloud in the presence of two university administrators. She said it is "extraordinarily commendable" that the University is considering reforms to its examination practises. However, not everybody seems to be happy with such a move. Some have voiced fears that the "handwritten word (could) become a matter of nostalgia".



Cambridge University (King’s College Chapel)
Cambridge University (King’s College Chapel)

Tracey Trussell, a handwriting expert at the British Institute of Graphologists, urged Cambridge to "make sure that students continue to write by hand, particularly in lectures". "Certainly with social media, iPads, and all the rest of it, people do clearly use keyboards much more than they would hand write," she said. "It's vital that people continue to write by hand," she added.

There is also concern that schools could follow Cambridge's example by moving away from handwriting. A spokesman for Cambridge University was quoted as saying that their review of exam procedures was "prompted by students raising concerns that they rarely handwrite during their studies".

"As part of this, a consultation is being conducted among students on whether computers should be allowed in exams," the spokesperson said. "The consultation is ongoing and will be used to inform future decision-making on the issue," the spokesperson said.