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Coronavirus — A group of maths students feel pressured to have to turn up to a physical exam with over 100 other students. It should be online, they say. And in the meantime, three corona-infected students who took part in other physical exams, have set off an email briefing from the university to other participants.
Wednesday 4 November and 130 University of Copenhagen (UCPH) mathematics students took a written exam at the Bülowshallen venue in Frederiksberg. They sat for three hours in the multi-use hall facility, used the same facilities, and touched the same handles to open the doors.
This was not in contravention of the official guidelines, but it felt unsafe and unnecessary, and it lacked ambition.
This is according to Amalie Palmund, one of the students who at time of writing was just about to take a written exam in the ‘Introduction to numerical analysis’. She, together with three fellow students, had written and asked the department management how it makes sense to hold physical exams with many students, at a time when the corona infection numbers are higher than ever before.
»I do not feel safe about this situation. It is a completely unnecessary risk for myself and my family, as I have deliberately avoided my fellow students ever since the beginning of the spring 2020. This has not been respected,« says Amalie Palmund.
After Amalie Palmund was interviewed for this article, three students who had taken part in two physical exams at the University of Copenhagen tested positive for Covid-19. This is according to a warning sent out to all students who had participated in ‘cosmology’ exams at the Faculty of Science and ‘clinical theory for small domesticated animals’ at the Faculty of Health and Medicine.
The debate over physical examinations has also taken off on the comment threads on the university’s intranet, Kunet. A notice about the use of masks on campus has been seen almost 22,000 times, and garnered more than 50 comments at time of writing.
In an email to the University Post, Betina Kongsbak, head of section at the Faculty of Science’s education unit, explains what the faculty does to make the exam situation safe.
»In our multi-purpose hall exams, we generally have the option of ensuring that there is plenty of space in connection with arrivals and departures, so it is possible to uphold distance to those you know and those you don’t know. We will ensure that people know how to deal with sanitation and distancing, and our supervisors have particular tasks to support this.«
Betina Kongsbak also encourages students to keep their distance and make sure they wash and sanitize their hands.
Amalie Palmund can see that the university lives up to the guidelines. She is just saying that the university as an institution ought to be more proactive and introduce stricter guidelines to look after its employees and students.
I feel let down by my university.
Student Amalie Palmund
»They have a lot of resources, and they have had a lot of time to plan this exam, so I can’t understand that I have to be exposed to this. People are dying from this virus,« she says.
However, it is not the faculty’s responsibility to go further than what the guidelines prescribe, according to Betina Kongsbak.
»We are a public institution and should not therefore assess the situation ourselves and make further estimations, as this is not our area of competence.«
One of the best defences against the spread of infection is isolation. This means that you are not allowed to attend an exam if you are infected, have symptoms, or are quarantined because you have had close contact with an infected person. If you are unable to attend, you should take your exam at a different time, and it will not be counted as an exam attempt.
Amalie Palmund still believes, however, that many people will show up even though they have symptoms or are in quarantine.
»My guess is that some students still show up if they are quarantined or have mild symptoms. It is not enforced by the university at all, and the alternative for the individual student is a re-examination.«
This was exactly what one or more students of odontology threatened to do in June. Here, the person in question wrote in an anonymous email that three corona-infected students had participated in classes and also planned to take part in the exam, even though they were sick. The department stood its ground and completed the physical exams.
It is mostly the students’ responsibility to stay at home if they are infected or have symptoms, according to Betina Kongsbak.
We can’t avoid the fact that individuals need to take on the burden of responsibility.
Betina Kongsbak, head of section
»We can facilitate our compliance with various recommendations and guidelines. We can plan our exams so that there is distancing, sanitizer and protective equipment. And if we suspect that a student turns up sick, we can send them home. But in the end, it is the individual that has to comply with the guidelines and take care of others by taking care of themselves.«
If you are particularly vulnerable or sick, you can withdraw from the physical exam without using one of your exam attempts.
In the Science Council, they have not heard from students who feel unsafe, but they call on students who do so to contact them.
»This is not a concern that we are aware of, but it is, of course, problematic that students feel unsafe turning up at exams. I would like to encourage you to contact us if you feel that way, so we can talk to management,« says Willie Krabben, who is political chairman of the student-run council.
It is his impression that many students are actually happy with doing a physical exam. However under a post in the Faculty of Science’s news hub, several students ask why the faculty is still upholding physical exams.
I am an adult and I would like to be good at my subject, so I don’t cheat.
Student Amalie Palmund
An employee in the university’s education services replies that it is also to avoid cheating. And Betina Kongsbak relates that there have been relatively few — but, however, still a few more — reports of cheating during the spring online exams. But the risk of cheating is not in itself a good enough reason, says Willie Krabben from the Science Council.
»It should not be just to avoid cheating, that they are carried out as physical exams. It is also to make the exam situation as real as possible.«
And there must be other ways to avoid cheating, Amalie Palmund adds.
»They could carry out other measures, make the exams more difficult, and permit the use of aids so there is no cheating. They could also just trust me. I am an adult and I would like to be good at my subject, so I don’t cheat. And I honestly believe that those who would cheat would also just fail an exam later on.«