MAASTRICHT. Student party Novum has started a petition against online proctoring of exams at Maastricht University. Three faculties apply this form of digital examination, in which students are supervised by webcam. A considerable breach of privacy, which Novum feels is not allowed. In the petition, the student party refers to this type of examination as “unlawful and unconstitutional”. These are “Orwellian developments”.
The way in which and why Maastricht University chose online proctoring, is quite a story – more about that next week in a background article – but the fact is that it has been introduced at the Faculties of Health, Medicine and Life sciences, Science and Engineering, and the School of Business and Economics. And yes, student representatives of these faculties were involved – albeit not in public meetings – and did approve the protocols. That doesn’t alter the fact that student party Novum started a petition on change.org. More than fifty students have signed so far. “Not as many as in Tilburg,” says Thomas Vaessen, student of Law and Medicine and a member of Novum. In Tilburg, the counter stands at five thousand, but the petition has been online for more than a month there. Student organisations in Amsterdam and Nijmegen have also started similar petitions.
The procedure at the UM doesn’t deserve any beauty prizes, feels Sangavi Sivananthan, chairperson for Novum and student at FHML. She feels that she was “tricked into it”. As a student council member, she was informed (“with a confidential document, received at the weekend, while four days later the first exam with online proctoring was taken”) and there was room to ask questions, but now she already hears fellow students complaining. “That suddenly a second camera was made compulsory to show the ceiling, their room and even under the table. This requirement was not made known to us.” She was also worried about students in different time zones. “I know of students who had to purchase additional data bundles just to make sure that their Internet wouldn’t be cut off. Students have no choice and so they agree; nobody wants to suffer a delay.”
Novum emphasises that all students have a right to privacy and respect of their personal living space. “The articles 10 and 12 of the constitution contain the right to privacy and the duty for the government to stay out of your house, respectively,” the petition says. True, one may deviate from those rights at times, but “where are those laws? Any state that applies the rule of law must meet the principle of legality. Show us the proper legislature where it says that the university may have a view of your room, that it may record you and the sounds of your house.”
According to Thomas Vaessen, the UM must work harder to find alternatives, such as open-book exams, shortening the duration of exams, text assignments or oral exams. That they nevertheless chose the classic types of exams (“rigid methods”) and therefore the faculties feel that proctoring is necessary, Vaessen says is “laxness. At the law faculty, one of my lecturers turned a classical knowledge exam into an open-book exam with insight questions. In that case, there is no need for proctoring.” He thinks that the students in the faculty councils were put on the spot. “The story was: proctoring or study delay. That is a manipulative joke.” Moreover, he feels that it is “painful” that student council members were not informed properly by the administrators with respect to their right to privacy. “How can they then make a decent decision?”
Assess the interests
Rector Rianne Letschert understands that proctoring is not an ideal solution for everyone: “No, it is not the ideal way to take exams, I do realise that, all too well. But what is the alternative?” We are in crisis, she emphasised. “We are doing our level best to ensure that students are suffering as little delay as possible. We also want their diplomas to be guaranteed. In addition, I have to make sure that our lecturers don’t collapse. You have to assess the interests very carefully.”
The UM didn’t engage an external proctoring software company, “we take care of everything ourselves, such as invigilation, where we use our own employees, we also have our own system.” No recordings are made or stored. “We have our own protocols.” She refers to this UM variant as proctoring light. “Because of this, we have more control over privacy. This has been embedded and deliberated carefully.” However, it doesn’t feel light for the students and lecturers. “Yes, it is rather taxing.” One example: at the School of Business and Economics they will at times need seventy employees to watch over more than four hundred students.