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Annual Report 2005: Undergraduate Studies 2004 - 2005

Annual Report 2005: Undergraduate Studies 2004 - 2005

Introduction from the Director

Role of the Undergraduate Office

The Undergraduate Office is run by a member of the academic staff serving as Director (Dr B Vira), together with a full-time Assistant to the Director (Mrs V Forbes) who manages the work of the Office on a day-to-day basis. The Office organises the Department's teaching programme for the Geographical Tripos, including the timetabling and location of lectures, submission of coursework, arrangements for visiting lecturers, production of the annual course guide, the running of examination business, assessment of courses and lecturers, and producing the agenda and minutes for a range of committee meetings. Once again, the Department remains indebted to Mrs Forbes for the remarkable job she performs in ensuring the smooth running of the Undergraduate Office, despite ever increasing demands on her time.

The Geographical Tripos

At Part 1A students continue to take five compulsory papers and are required to submit work based on four practical projects. No changes are envisaged in the broad structure of Part 1B, where students continue to choose four papers, including at least one from among five Human Geography papers and one from among five Physical Geography papers. They continue to submit three projects, including work undertaken as part of the compulsory field class in the Mediterranean, together with an Open Book paper. At Part II students make a free choice of four papers from fifteen offered, in addition to the Dissertation.

The Teaching Policy Committee has overall responsibility for policy matters at postgraduate and undergraduate level, while the Staff-Student Committee (previously Undergraduate Studies Committee) is chaired by the Director of Undergraduate Studies; membership includes the Assistant Director of Studies, one other member of academic staff, the President of the Cambridge University Geographical Society (an undergraduate) and six other student representatives, two from each Part of the Tripos. This Committee addresses issues raised by the students, as well as responding to pedagogic matters arising from examination reports, planning the introductory learning day for new students, and overseeing the production of the annual course guide

Greater use continues to be made of electronic resources, with the publication of the annual course guide available on the Departmental intranet. The Department is initiating proceedings for placing all reading lists and lecture handouts in the intranet. The Department is trying further this year to encourage electronic student feedback. The Undergraduate School continues to monitor it, however, since this new method of course assessment has produced a lower return rate to date.

Examination results

Examination statistics reveal that in 2005 just 80% of students at Part 1A (an increase on last year) gained an Upper Second Class result or better. This proportion increased at Part 1B and Part II, with respectively 88% and 84% of students performing at Upper Second Class level or above.

The number of Thirds continues to be very low, with only two students falling into this category across the whole Tripos. However, this is an increase on the previous year. As in the past, we continue to be concerned about the gender gap in the number of Firsts awarded, with men continuing to outperform their female peers. However, the gender gap at Part 1A and 1B has narrowed markedly this year. The Department is actively considering ways in which this gap might be addressed and continues to monitor the situation.

Residential field classes

Changes in funding arrangements currently threaten the Department's fieldwork programme. Nevertheless, the commitment to fieldwork remains strong, with project work carried out on the Part IB field classes firmly established as part of that year's assessment process. Residential field classes have all been run in the Mediterranean at Easter since 1995 (see table below), with participation in one of these classes compulsory for Part IB students. These classes cover a range of topics and techniques in both human and physical geography, and serve a significant purpose in reinforcing research techniques taught through first- and second-year projects, as well as introducing students to new methodologies that will be helpful to them in carrying out their final-year dissertation.

Vacation/Year 1 2 3
Easter vacation 1995 Algarve Crete Netherlands
Easter vacation 1996 Algarve Crete Mallorca
Easter vacation 1997 Aeolian islands, Italy Malta SE Spain
Easter vacation 1998 Algarve Crete Mallorca
Easter vacation 1999 Aeolian islands, Italy Crete Malta
Easter vacation 2000 Algarve Mallorca SE Spain
Easter vacation 2001 Algarve Crete SE Spain
Easter vacation 2002 Aeolian islands, Italy Algarve Mallorca
Easter vacation 2003 Algarve Crete Mallorca
Easter vacation 2004 Algarve Crete Mallorca
Easter vacation 2005 Algarve Puerto Pollensa (Mallorca) Palma - (Mallorca)

The Part II dissertation

The compulsory dissertation is, like residential fieldwork, a very long-established feature of the Tripos. It offers students the opportunity to carry out an independent investigation based on geographical ideas, methods, and technical skills acquired during the course of the Tripos. Apart from some restrictions felt to be necessary on grounds of logistics or safety, the Department imposes very little constraint on either the topic chosen or the location of study. Students prepare their proposal for submission to their Director of Studies and the Head of Department, at the end of the Lent term; they are also required to submit an assessment of the risks involved in carrying out their research. Undergraduates in recent years have chosen a wide variety of topics and locales for their dissertations, though the proportion of overseas locations continues to fall in the light of the increasing costs which students have to bear throughout their course. The Department has now taken on the main responsibility for funding residential fieldwork having been tasked with the management of a vacation studies grant intended to fund all required field-trips and assist students with dissertation expenses which were previously the responsibility of the colleges.


While admission to the Department is through the Colleges, the Department plays an important role in liaising with Directors of Studies during the admissions season, particularly in ensuring that high quality pool students are placed. The Director of the Undergraduate Office prepares the Departmental entry for the University Admissions Prospectus, as well as keeping the Department's website and brochure up to date and responding to queries from prospective students. The Department again opened its doors on one of the General Arts Open Days. This was a very successful event involving talks, tours and advice to individuals; approximately 150 prospective students visited the Department on that occasion.

Dr B Vira
Director of Undergraduate Studies


Part Class 2004-2005 2003-04 2002-03 2001-02 2000-01
IA 1 18 11 12 12 6
2:1 65 58 66 54 47
2:2 20 25 25 22 37
3 1 0 0 2 2
Ordinary 0 0 0 0 0
Total 104 94 103 90 91
IB 1 11 14 11 10 8
2:1 71 73 59 68 60
2:2 11 17 19 9 20
3 0 0 1 1 0
Ordinary 0 0 0 0 0
Total 93 104 90 88 88
II 1 19 14 15 16 16
2:1 68 70 59 66 58
2:2 16 13 17 12 21
3 1 1 0 0 0
Ordinary 0 0 0 0 0
Total 104 98 91 94 95