Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Stakeholders surprised by UWI's face-to-face exams memo

Published:Monday | July 26, 2021 | 8:12 AMDavid Salmon/Gleaner Writer

Some stakeholders of the University of the West Indies (UWI) have raised concern about a directive by the administration of the tertiary institution advising students that face-to-face examinations will be resumed during the 2021-2022 academic year.

The university made the disclosure in a memo to students late last week.

The memo released on Friday stated that most final course assessments would be done via face-to-face examinations despite 70 per cent of courses remaining online. This would require students to be physically present at a UWI campus or any other approved site.

However, this position has not found favour with President of the Jamaica Union of Tertiary Students Christina Williams, who said the planned move was “ill-advised” as it was impractical to have students come from different locations to spend only two weeks doing exams in December.

Williams, who tweeted her concerns about this proposal in June, cited insufficient accommodation and an increase in tuition fees as some of the challenges that students face.

She also questioned the ability of the authorities to maintain physical distancing as usually, more than 500 to 1,000 students sit exams simultaneously. As a result, she suggested that the university must accept some liability if students contract COVID-19.

This view was echoed by Jossie Noble, one of the 100 Belizean students attending UWI, Mona. She believed that the announcement was “inconsiderate” as making travel preparations during this time would be tedious, expensive, and placed students at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Since the announcement, the UWI Guild released a survey to determine the number of students affected by the announcement. A member of the executive, who spoke to the Gleaner on condition of anonymity, said the group was stunned by the missive issued by the administration.

“We were in preliminary meetings and discussions with UWI regarding face-to-face exams. However, there wasn’t any consensus about it, so the email caught us by surprise.”

The UWI Guild executive revealed that more than 70 per cent of the 1,900 students surveyed were against in person examinations, citing concerns about contracting COVID-19 and maintaining part time jobs to cover living expenses. Furthermore, only 19 per cent of respondents stated that they were fully vaccinated.

Secretary of the West Indies Group of Teachers, Charmaine McKenzie, has also described the proposal as “premature” given that the COVID-19 emergency committee has not met to finalise its recommendations. Further, she said that insufficient information was available on the number of students and staff that were fully vaccinated.

A subsequent UWI memo sent to the lecturers stated that “all members of staff are required to physically be at work” outside of those exempted under the Disaster Risk Management Act.

UWI campus registrar Dr Donovan Stanberry sought to allay concerns raised by stakeholders. He rejected the view that the announcement was “premature”, noting that “the details have not been worked out … but what we are doing is giving a general indication of a return to normalcy”.

Stanberry explained that these measures were necessary to guarantee the integrity of the examination process, and many students expressed an interest in returning to physical classes owing to issues such as Internet connectivity.

He added that the recent increase in tuition fees by 1.9 per cent was not arbitrary but done after consultation with stakeholders, including students.

The campus registrar sought to dispel the “myth” that online classes were cheaper as several unplanned investments were made to facilitate the process.