Students at NUI Galway have strongly criticised the university for its decision to continue mass in-person exams for students this year despite growing concerns about rising Covid-19 cases.
Photos and videos of NUIG’s exam hall layout have spread around social media with many students complaining that desks were not set up in a socially distanced manner and may potentially be unsafe for students, particularly those with underlying health conditions, if they were to go ahead in person.
One student told the Irish Times they felt the exam hall layout “blatantly disregards all social distancing”.
The student was “concerned” about having to sit for long periods in an exam hall where vaccinated and unvaccinated students will mix for “over 2 hours, despite the ever increasing Covid cases and the surge of the new variant.”
“The college refuses to listen to the many concerned students,” they said.
The Students’ Union has been campaigning for exams to go ahead online rather than in-person in large exam halls.
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. However, students have highlighted that postponing exams may incur a fee and would delay them from finishing their academic year.
Speaking in a Dáil debate earlier this week, Sinn Féin TD for Mayo Rose Conway Walsh said the issue was that "students do not feel safe or comfortable to enter an exam hall with hundreds of other students and students do not want to defer these exams."
“Some have underlying conditions, others live with vulnerable family members and it’s unfair and unjustified for students to be given no options when Covid numbers are high,” she said.
Ms Conway Walsh said there “must be scope within examinations for alternative arrangements for students who do not feel comfortable attending mass indoor exams.”
‘Flexibility must be shown’
In response, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said he believed the return to on campus education has "gone very well" and the approach that was being taken was to continue to carry out on site and in person education "while it's safe".
However, “accommodations and flexibility must be shown to students for whom it is not possible to take part on campus. Different institutions will do different things and that’s okay and that’s right because they must risk assessing their own campus,” he said.
Most universities are planning a combination of in-person exams for the first time in two years as well as online assessments next month.
University College Cork has decided to move the majority of its exams online after the Student's Union lobbied against in-person exams due to the risk of Covid-19 to students and their families.
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."
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.
University of Limerick said the majority of its undergraduate modules have moved to continuous assessment and do not require end-of-semester exams.