This editorial was written as 5,600 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in Ireland. The day before, for (approximately) the 625th day in a row our phones buzzed with the Irish Times notification of yet again another lump sum of positive cases being reported.
So much has remained certain. That we must look after ourselves, wear face masks to reduce the rate of infection and the sheer fact that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic But what’s also ironically remained certain is University College Dublin’s (UCD) uncertainty when it comes to making a university-wide decision. This editorial board is of the view that UCD should take the decision to move all exams online rather than leave the decision up to individual schools and module coordinators.
Staff were told via a bulletin on the 19th of November by UCD President, Andrew Deeks, that the university’s “planning to support face-to-face end of trimester examinations will continue”. However, faculty planning in-person exams have been advised to have “alternative assessments in place in the event of any change in government advice”. Students were told by Deputy President and Registrar, Mark Rogers that “the timing and nature of your assessments remain as published unless you are informed otherwise”.
With exam week only two weeks away and the stress of assignments and end of term deadlines creeping up with cases rising to worrying numbers; it is, frankly, a cop-out for our university to not make a concrete decision on how students will be assessed.
This editorial board recognises that some schools are better equipped for online examinations than other schools and that many students have been preparing and studying for exams that were predicted to be held in person. The board also acknowledges the importance of academic integrity.
However, what is more important in a time of a public health crisis is certainty and the subtraction of the added stress of risking your health to sit an in-person exam. Academic integrity has to mould to the circumstances at hand. We must remember that students in university right now are studying in circumstances very different to past students. Our degrees will still be measured against one another in post-graduation. Academic integrity cannot be measured in the same way.
Furthermore, this newspaper believes that UCD not making a university decision is another strategic removal of accountability from its actions. Approximately two years into a pandemic and it has yet to acknowledge the added pandemic anxiety posing a risk to the educational wellbeing of students in this institution. It shows a structural issue within UCD’s decision-makers not acting in time and waiting until it is absolutely necessary, to make decisions. It would save the students studying here so much uncertainty-induced stress to just have a solid plan in place from the very beginning.
Exams should be online rather than in-person, so students don’t have to risk their health and the health of those they live with and this should be university-wide to remove the lack of clarity and coordination.