The Dutch government announced last week that higher education will remain ‘open’ for the time being, regardless of the high number of COVID-19 infections (about 22 thousand per day). The second exam period, starting 13 December, can also take place in the Mecc. “It can be done safely,” said rector/President Rianne Letschert to the University Council last week.
Although Maastricht University guarantees a distance of one and a half metres in the exam hall, students of the European Law School (ELS) and the Master's in Globalization and Law are not reassured. More than two hundred ELS students have now signed a petition. Nearly eighty from the Master’s programme jointly sent a letter to the Examination Board. Core of their message: having a large group of students together is not safe at the moment.
Second-year ELS student Gabriella Liebenberg started the petition with two fellow students. They have been worried about the meeting in the Mecc for some time, but last week’s stricter government measures gave them the final push. The fact that precautions are being taken in the Mecc – extra hygiene measures, mandatory face masks – doesn’t reassure them. Liebenberg: “The thought of having to sit exams in the Mecc with hundreds of students in the same room for three hours and no possibility to keep the recommended distance in front of the building and the exam hall, frightens us.” Last weekend, they sent out a survey to their respondents to find out more about why they signed. “We now know that 84 per cent will meet someone in the risk group over the Christmas break, and it is ludicrous to have exams in person in this situation, putting your own family at risk.”
Within the Globalization and Law master's programme, a single joint letter has been written to the Examination Board. The Portuguese Francisco Almeida, who also signed, is concerned about the new Omicron variant. In addition, he is not convinced that all sick students will stay at home during the exam week. And he understands to some extent. “If you have COVID-19 you will still have two opportunities to do the exam, but they will be later, when you are already dealing with new courses. That’s against the principle of equality.”
According to the students, an online or take-home exam could be a solution. But about proctoring (online surveillance while the student takes the exam on the computer at home) Rianne Letschert was very clear during the University Council meeting last week: “We don’t want that anymore.” Postponing is not an option either, she said then. That would cause a lot of stress.
Sjoerd Claessens, vice dean of education at the Faculty of Law, who spoke to the initiators on Tuesday, explaines that online “is not an option,” because in-person education (and examination) is simply still permitted by the government. “We will not only ensure that people adhere to the one-and-a-half-metre regulation in the exam halls, but also in the corridors and in the waiting rooms.” Along with that, of course, we are appealing to the students to be responsible, he emphasises.
Wendy Degens/ Simon Wirtz