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“There is no negotiating on the quality of the diploma”

“There is no negotiating on the quality of the diploma”

Photographer:Fotograaf:

Loraine Bodewes

Chairman Peter Vermeer assembled UM Examination Boards regarding examination during corona crisis

MAASTRICHT. You can't replace a multiple-choice exam for 800 students by a take-home exam. Marking would be unfeasible. So, what then? Postpone the exam and hope that it can take place in the Mecc before September after all? Or look for alternatives? The UM Examination Boards are focussing on dilemmas like these and are searching for solutions almost every day. The exam period for block 4 is scheduled to start on Monday, 30 March.

One thing up front, says Peter Vermeer, there will be no negotiating on the final quality of the diploma. Corona crisis or not, all students must fulfil the objectives set by their study programme. Only then can they graduate. So, when it comes to the exams, forbearance is no acquittance. “We will not be handing out free ECTS credits. Sections can be moved around, but as to how exactly? We haven’t decided that yet.”

Mecc

Vermeer is chairman of the Examination Boards for three University Colleges (UCM, UCVenlo, and the Science Programme) and, together with Sylvia Heeneman (FHML), chairman of the collective Maastricht Examination Boards, the CoBoE (Committee Board of Examiners). Observant spoke to him on Tuesday morning, March 24. The evening before, it had become clear that the government measures to contain the corona epidemic will apply until 1 June. “Until yesterday, it appeared as if postponing large-scale exams in the Mecc, for example, for the School of Business and Economics, but also for Psychology and Law, until June would be feasible. That is now unsure. You want to make a decision, but the situation keeps changing. We want to complete as many sections as possible within this academic year. We will have to make tough choices, otherwise we will continue to muddle along and we will have to face the consequences next year.”

Camera

The Examination Boards are considering the possible choices. Vermeer: “Imagine that June is no longer an option for large-scale exams, then it might happen that SBE pushes everything forward to after the summer, to the last week of August. The disadvantage is that you are piling up a lot of ECTS credits. But we are also thinking about multiple-choice exams that students can do at home within a specific length of time while a lecturer watches via a camera. This is to prevent fraud. If this were possible for a large group, it would be an option, we just don’t know how yet. We are looking into that now; we are also looking at what other universities are doing. In Hong Kong, for example, where they first had to deal with the demonstrations and occupations and now the corona.”

Quality

Another point: it is possible that essential parts of a programme are not dealt with at the moment because all education is online. Then it is up to us to come up with replacement assignments so that the student can still gain credits, says Vermeer. It is also possible that the decision is made to partially forgo a section that will recur in following years. “Imagine you have an introduction to a field, in year two and three you come back to it but in more depth. You could then at those later stages give a lecture that pays extra attention to what was missed and then give a test to ensure that the student knows the material from year one. You then push things forward but without taking away from the quality.”

Continuing: “It is new territory for us, we need to improvise: what is possible and what is not? With every alternative, we have to determine: are we testing the learning objectives and is it doable? It is not ideal, but we have to make do with what we’ve got.” On top of that, the Examination Boards really want to help out in that search for solutions, but at the same time need to keep a proper distance. After all, they will have to assess whether the new plans meet the quality standards. Vermeer: “That is a dilemma, you can’t certify your own meat.”

Take home

For the smaller study programmes, such as the three Colleges, but also programmes at Law and FASoS, the problems are slightly less. They have chosen alternative testing in period four: things like a take-home exam or a paper. “That is not unusual for them, although you can’t use them throughout the programme.” 

Skills

The essential skills for medical students, for example, is a different story. Shifting those is sometimes difficult or impossible, Vermeer emphasises. “You start off in year one and you build on that in the years that follow. If you don’t get things right now, you will get caught out next year. The corona crisis is a disaster for skills training. We will have to postpone them until later.” Thinking out loud, he says what if this group incurs study delays. Who will pay for the additional study costs? “The minister will have to say something about that.” Just like with the first-year students who have been given temporary relief from the binding study advice and – in the worst-case scenario - will only hear at the end of second year that they are not suitable for the study. “How much time are they left with for a second study programme? That too, is a question for the minister.”

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