I'm an undergraduate student in computer science, and my university has a rule of prerequisite that one should have a sufficient computer (exactly the same word my university uses) to work outside of campus. Although my university is in China, it uses a British university system.

I have a desktop for this and I have used it for three years to study with no problem, until today the professor of one of my modules designed a coding assessment where each student must bring a laptop to a lecture hall with no computers to take this assessment. In addition, he requires that while taking the assessment one must record their face and screen (probably to prevent cheating). Besides of my desktop, I only have a tablet used for note-taking in lectures, which is obviously insufficient for coding and running multiple tasks simultaneously.

So the question is, is it right for the professor to request that everyone must bring a laptop for this, given that the university only requires a computer? If it is not, how can I protest against this?

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    @Ian Actually my university can be regarded as a British one. For each module we have a Module Handbook. Unfortunately, such hardware requirements are not described there. I think I should add this info to my question. Thank you. May 17 at 13:46
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    I recently audited the only course offered by a law school that is open to students not admitted to study for a law degree. We were required to have a laptop computer. May 18 at 3:29
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    Did you ask the professor?
    – Michael
    May 18 at 15:42
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    The country is probably important here, and within the country the institution. For example, at Stanford I'd consider the assumption reasonable (even though I can imagine that at the same time the faculty tries more than elsewhere to be politically correct and not discriminate by wealth); In a poorer country or at a poorer institution I'd not be so sure. May 18 at 23:17
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    Despite being perhaps similar to a British university, I don’t think your university can be regarded as one. For one thing, I very much doubt it would be legal for a British university to require students to activate the front-facing camera and record themselves using their own laptop. That sounds like a privacy/GDPR nightmare. May 19 at 8:22

4 Answers 4


The first step is to check whether your university provides laptops for students. For example, at my university students can borrow laptops from the university library.

If this is not the case, then inform the professor that you don't have a laptop, and thus cannot bring one. It seems to be that this assessment really ought to happen in a computer lab. Trying to prevent cheating if people use their own laptops is a very weird idea anyway.

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    @GuanyumingHe It's not clear to me that anything is wrong or needs to be prevented. If you can borrow a laptop from the university library, or can use some other university computer, then you have a solution to your problem. I guess I was a student some time ago now, but people at my US university frequently borrowed library computers, most often for giving slide presentations in class. I suppose that the people who did not have their own laptops learned after the first time how to deal with it and it made no issue after that.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 17 at 14:25
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    @BryanKrause It is very reasonable. Thank you. I don't think the library provides laptops for temporary use, but I think I can manage to borrow one from my friends, and now I guess I should first try to solve the problem myself instead of hoping to change the professor's design someway. May 17 at 14:30
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    @GuanyumingHe I think it's fine to let the instructor know about the problem and ask if they have any suggested solutions, just that the attitude should be towards collaboratively solving the problem rather than protesting/complaining. But yes, generally if you can solve the problem yourself that is ideal.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 17 at 14:33
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    At my university, the laptops could only be rented for a few hours at a time and then must be renewed in person at the library, or else the student would incur a significant fee. This was at a large and fairly well-regarded public state university. If the student needs to have certain programs installed on the laptop ahead of time, this could add a massive amount of stress to the exam that wouldn't be conducive to scoring well.
    – ribs2spare
    May 18 at 18:50
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    @GuanyumingHe notifying the professor is a good idea. At the very least, they can amend the requirements for next year to include a laptop.
    – Davidmh
    May 19 at 8:02

Arno's answer is a good one (+1 from me and it is currently the accepted answer). But as a general rule it would not be unreasonable for a computer science course to require a laptop, with certain minimum specifications (e.g., camera, WiFi, recent OS, etc.).

The analogy with a carpentry course is a good one. A carpentry course could require all students to bring tools meeting specific requirements (not just "any" hammer, but a particular type/size/weight, etc.) Or an art course may require the students to have particular supplies to do required projects. All of these are reasonable if the specifics are available on day one of the course, or possibly even in advance of the course. Really no different, except for the cost of a decent laptop, than requiring particular textbooks. (Actually, some textbooks cost more than some laptops...)

But requiring a laptop late in a course does not make sense. While laptops are quite common for students, a desktop can be far more ergonomically friendly and the combination of a good desktop with a large monitor + a tablet can be comparable to a good laptop. Except for college students and people who travel a lot, I actually recommend desktop computers to a lot of people - many of them don't even realize it is an option any more, and in fact OP's professor may not be aware of the many reasons why someone might have a desktop instead of a laptop.

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    I would expect a carpentry course to provide tools in the lab, an art course would have painting supplies, etc. Students might bring their own if they have them, since they're more familiar with their own tools, but it shouldn't be required.
    – Barmar
    May 18 at 14:27
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    @Barmar Absolutely true. Which is why that information has to be available at the beginning - or preferably before - the start of the course. May 18 at 14:50
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    @Barmar If I recall correctly, my daughter took an art course in college and was given a very specific list of supplies that were required for the course. The course was not required per se (it filled some category of course but she could have taken something else) but she wanted to take it and on day 1 she knew what she had to get - and most of the things she had to purchase as they were not things we had around the house. But in my mind no different from textbooks - you get what you need for a course or you drop the course. The problem here is it wasn't a requirement stated on day 1. May 18 at 14:53
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    A carpentry course is a good comparison, and it proves you wrong. While you may be required to bring small and cheap tools like hammers and chisels, absolutely no one will ask you to bring your own table saw, which would be price equivalent of a decent laptop.
    – Davor
    May 18 at 18:45
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    Trust me there are differences. You still pay a premium to get a given amount of computational power and other features squeezed into a thin box. If that premium is $200 to $300, that's enough for a 24" monitor and a basic Android tablet. May 18 at 19:01

Your question title asks "is it right?" Later on the text you change that to "is it reasonable?" (Edit: the question was edited after I posted this answer, but the point remains)

It is not right for a professor to add requirements to the syllabus after the course has started, especially requirements that cost students money.

It is, however, a very reasonable requirement to ask CS students to own and bring a laptop to class or lab. I'm a professor and I do that all the time, even though the University has no such requirement. Carpentry apprentices are also required to bring their own hammers.

  • Comments about carpentry and other topics have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – cag51
    May 19 at 16:07

Of course it is. Don't expect the school to give you one. Pay for it.

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    As other's have stated, while it's not unreasonable to assume that CS students have a computer (or specifically a laptop) why do you say this? The OP does have access to a desktop as required. This is an apparently sudden requirement. Also, schools/libraries loaning laptops is common and obviously something the OP should look before buying a laptop for one class.
    – sErISaNo
    May 18 at 3:33
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    Not if they don't tell you ahead of time BEFORE you registered and paid for the course.
    – DKNguyen
    May 18 at 20:57

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