Image Credit: Patrick Hook-Willers
A petition launched yesterday criticising the University’s academic response to the global COVID-19 pandemic has gained nearly 1,500 signatures in little over 24 hours.
The petition titled ‘Change to University of York assessments in light of COVID-19’ labels the University’s response to as “insufficient in these exceptional circumstances” and calls for a significant change of direction.
It asks that “exams and assessments should become optional for final year students”, allowing final year students to either graduate with their current average or submit assessments at a later date, and calls for assessments to be postponed until a later date for students in second year, stating that “during this time of worry and uncertainty” the ability of students to perform to their usual levels is heavily impaired.
The University’s current proposed policy on teaching is to move all teaching and assessment online but the details of how this will work in practice remain unclear, though it has been confirmed that all first year examinations will be cancelled and that the usually stringent process for extension applications will be relaxed for second and third years.
The petition was launched following the University’s announcement at 10:00 yesterday morning that all library facilities will be closing “until further notice” from 17:00 today (20 March). As a result of this indefinite closure, students’ inability to have access to the full resources needed to complete assignments due to government measures on self-isolation and social distancing is cited as a significant hampering factor on students’ ability to perform adequately.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested in yesterday’s daily Coronavirus update that social distancing measures will last a minimum of 12 weeks, which if accurate, would suggest library closures until week 9 of the summer term. This 12-week timeline is only a best-case scenario, with news surfacing from government advisers today that measures will potentially need to be in place for an entire year, depending on the progression of pandemic response efforts.
It is note-worthy that this summer’s graduation ceremonies have been postponed with no ability to definitively confirm a date for a rescheduling possible. The postponement was confirmed first in an email to staff member on Thursday, which read: “we [the University] are still determined that final year students progress and will be conferred with their degrees", with graduating students informed on Friday afternoon. This indefinite postponement of graduation ceremonies adds further suggestion that physical resources in the University's library buildings will be unavailable for at least the duration of the academic year.
The petition states that “a move to online teaching and assessment is not sufficient” and that “the University cannot ensure the proposed online exams are sat fairly”, calling in to question the validity and fairness of results. The University’s current plans for online provision are described as “particularly unsatisfactory” when assessed in light of the UCU strikes which heavily affected weeks 7-10 of the spring term, exacerbating the substantial anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. On the strikes and proposed online provisions, the petition stated that “we have not received the education we are paying for.”
One student commented that “I am an international student busy with getting flights back and storage. [I’m] also in panic because my flights can be cancelled and I am facing a forced quarantine in my country as I’m returning from UK. The stress is unprecedented.” Another wrote that “I'm having lots of uncertainties, unforeseen restrictions and emotional issues to overcome during this tightly packed university work schedule. Together with the virus outbreak fear, there's simply no way to cope.”
Nouse today contacted the University for comment on the significant concern among the student body about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to teaching, examinations and assessments. A University spokesperson said: “All examinations and assessments for the remainder of this academic year will move online, barring first year exams which have been cancelled.
“We are currently working with teaching staff and representatives from the student community to ensure that we reach the best outcomes possible about how we facilitate assessments and exams for all students other than first years.
“We are still in the planning and consultation process and we fully recognise the disruption caused by both the Coronavirus and strike action on our students.”
The petition can be found here.