Students demand online exams amid surge in Covid-19 cases

Universities plan to reopen exam halls for the first time since coronavirus pandemic

Trinity College Dublin is one a number of universities that said it was seeking to accommodate students who might face difficulties with exams given the worsening Covid-19 situation. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Trinity College Dublin is one a number of universities that said it was seeking to accommodate students who might face difficulties with exams given the worsening Covid-19 situation. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

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Students are demanding more online exams amid concerns over the safety of reopening exam halls due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Most universities are planning a combination of in-person exams for the first time in two years as well as online assessments next month.

However, some students’ unions are calling for in-person exams to be cancelled or students to be given the right to defer exams if they are forced to restrict their movements.

The Union of Students’ of Ireland’s vice president Megan O’Connor has warned against a “rash return” to in-person exams.

“Colleges cannot possibly expect students to perform to their best ability in an entirely new, high-risk environment,” she said.

She called on universities to provide deferred or alternative assessment options.

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union is seeking more online and open-book exams in light of the “serious potential public health risk posed by students unnecessarily attending exam centres.”

In addition, Trinity’s Graduate Students’ Union and the Students4Change have jointly called on the university to cancel in-person exams altogether.

A spokeswoman for Trinity said just under half of exams this year are in-person at venues such as the RDS Simmonscourt, which will operate at 60 per cent capacity.

In a message to students, the university’s vice provost Orla Sheils said it was working on contingency plans in case public health guidelines change and it is not permitted to deliver in-person exams.

In the meantime, Ms Sheils said anyone affected by Covid-19 and unable to take exams may re-sit them later in December or early in the new year.

“We will also be looking at capacity on campus for students who are experiencing problems with wifi at home and are being asked to do exams online,” she said.

At UCD, the university is planning a mixture of online and in-person exams. Students are being advised not to attend in-person exams if they have any cold-like symptoms or have been advised to restrict their movements.

In a message to staff and students, Prof Mark Rogers said alternative or online assessments will be provided in the new year for anyone who cannot attend their exams.

NUI Galway has also advised students that it will be flexible in granting deferrals if they cannot come to campus for in-person exams next month.

“We are very conscious of the impact Covid-19 may have on some students, along with the unpredictability of the current public health situation, and with that in mind we will be flexible in the granting of deferrals,” a spokesman said.

“For students who are vulnerable, the university will put reasonable accommodations in place to facilitate their completion of assessments.”

University of Limerick said the majority of its undergraduate modules have moved to continuous assessment and do not require end-of-semester exams.

“Where students are unable to attend face to face exams, there are procedures in place to deal with this,” a spokesman said.

UCC said arrangements for its exams were still under consideration and it planned to communicate them directly to students when finalised.