Students’ qualifications will not be undermined by cancellation of exams

Mitchell O’Connor says degrees will be valued and regarded the same as any other year

Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has called on further and higher education providers to ensure students’ have full clarity over their assessments this year. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has called on further and higher education providers to ensure students’ have full clarity over their assessments this year. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

Students have been reassured that qualifications they achieve this year will be valued and regarded exactly the same as in any other year despite the cancellation of traditional exams this year.

All further and higher education institutions are replacing assessments in exam centres with alternatives including online exams and written assignments as a result of the coronavirus threat.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the State’s watchdog for education standards, says it is satisfied that the academic integrity of students’ degrees and other qualifications will be protected.

Clarity

Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor welcomed the move and asked all institutions to ensure students have clarity on exams and assessments, particularly those in their final year.

“Importantly, I would like to reassure students that even though alternative arrangements have been put in place standards will be upheld. We can all be confident that qualifications achieved this year will be valued and regarded exactly as in any other year,” she said.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said high standards are being maintained and a clear pathway to qualification is still available, even in these challenging and unprecedented circumstances.

“I would like to wish all students using new ways to undertake exams and assessments in the near future the very best of luck. I am sure that your hard work and perseverance will be fully rewarded,” she added.

The issue of how exams will be handled has been hotly debated on college campuses with thousands of students signing “no detriment” petitions which seek to ensure students do not receive grades that are lower than ones they were awarded during the academic year.

No detriment

They argue this is needed because many students who have limited quiet space in their homes, unreliable wifi or substandard laptops say they face being considerably disadvantaged.

However, the QQI’s says its new guidance document on assessments and exams sets out key guidelines for colleges to follow, which include taking into account the needs of students in such situations.

The guidance states that students who are “not able to participate in alternative assessment arrangements will not be penalised. They will have opportunities to complete their studies at a later point in time”.

It also urges institutions to be aware of the particular needs of students who are more vulnerable; those who contract Covid-19 or are caring for others; students from overseas; work-based learners; broadband access; students with disabilities or those with mental health issues.

QQI said the further and higher education sectors have endorsed these guiding principles and committed to ensuring the integrity of qualifications this year, particularly for graduating cohorts.

It said this engagement is continually progressing through the participation of the institutional and student representative bodies in weekly quality, integrity and reputation steering group meeting which QQI chairs on behalf of the Department of Education.

It said the purpose of this group is to ensure the maintenance of the quality of teaching and learning, assessment and qualifications, and to document best practice, develop guidelines and capture learnings for future system enhancement.

Dr Pádraig Walsh, QQI’s chief executive, said he was very proud of the way the further and higher education and training sector has come together to develop a system-wide, innovative and student-centred response to the unusual circumstances in which we currently find ourselves.

“The efforts being made across the sector to ensure the best outcomes for students the length and breadth of this country are nothing short of remarkable. This work has only just begun but QQI will continue to provide guidance to all our education and training partners with both the immediate and longer-term impact of this current crisis.”