Back-up for college students who cannot sit Christmas exams because of Covid-19

Third level students who miss their end of term exams for Covid-related reasons will be able to avail of an alternative assessment.

olleges are putting in place arrangements that take account of the latest Government guidance that asks asymptomatic household close contacts to restrict their movements for five days.

As well as students who may test positive for Covid-19, or have symptoms, in which case they are expected to stay at home, the five day rule for asymptomatic close contacts could impact further on exam attendance.

The issue of exam flexibility was discussed at a meeting today between Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris and representatives of higher education institutions, staff and students.

Exam arrangements vary between colleges, ranging from traditional in-person assessments in exam halls, to a mix of in-person and online exams.

In an email to students this evening, Trinity College Dublin acknowledged concerns being expressed by students about the exams.

It offered an assurance that “anybody who is affected by Covid, and is therefore unable to take exams, can take those exams quickly later in December or early in the new year”.

The email was sent by Professor Orla Sheils, Trinity’s vice provost and chief academic officer, and Professor David Shepherd, dean of undergraduate studies.

They also said they would be looking at capacity on campus for students who are experiencing problems with Wi-Fi at home and were being asked to do exams online.

Trinity has 25,959 exam sittings planned for December and 4,180 exam sittings scheduled in January, the latter for first year students, who started college later than usual this year.

Of these, 17,443 are online. The 12,696 in-person exam sittings are scheduled for the RDS Simmonscourt, at 60pc capacity, with a maximum of 1,600 students per session for two sessions per day.

Trinity is also working on contingency plans in case the public health guidelines change and the college is not permitted to deliver in-person exams.

“However, our information at present suggests the advice to universities is unlikely to change. In other words, in line with most other universities we still expect to carry out exams using a mix of in-person and online assessments.”

At University College Dublin, Professor Mark Rogers registrar and deputy president, also wrote to staff and students today confirming that existing arrangements for online and in-person exams remain in place, with flexibility for those who cannot participate.

UCD relies heavily on the RDS for its in-person exams, but also uses campus buildings.

In his letter to staff, Prof Rogers said: “Over the coming weeks it may emerge that some of our student population will not be able to take assessments as scheduled at the end of the trimester. It is important that we plan for this eventuality.”

Students who are unable to attend their exams because they have Covid symptoms or have been requested to restrict their movements as a result of being a close contact, are being advised to apply for “extenuating circumstances”.

The extenuating circumstances facility allows for flexibility in how individual students are assessed such as scheduling exams for the new year, and the regulations governing applications are being relaxed in light of the current exceptional circumstances.

Given the uncertainty over the public health landscape, UCD academic staff have been advised to be prepared to make immediate changes to scheduled in-person exams to an alternative format.

Prof Rogers said they should prepare online alternative assessments in the event of any change in government advice.

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