It has been the main topic of conversation in the past weeks: the session exams of the upcoming winter session 2021. For more than a half a year, VSETH has been advocating for fair and safe exam conditions in the current pandemic. In the following blog post, we would like to share with you the latest information regarding this topic, give you an insight into our work and try to clarify the processes involved. In particular, we would like to address the situation for students in quarantine as this is one of the biggest challenges in this issue. These students could in the worst case miss an exam due to the quarantine and then, in the worst case, they will be forced to take it a year later.
ETH sticks with presence exams
After the changeover to distance learning had become more or less part of the norm during the last spring semester, the focus quickly turned to how to conduct the exams in summer safely. As you will have noticed, a large part of the end-of-semester examinations were then held online. But for the session exams, a far-reaching protective concept was drawn up, which was intended to protect students and examiners alike. This included phased arrivals on campus, an orderly walk to the exam site, mandatory masks in the buildings, spacing between seats, orderly exits from the building, and separate rooms for students from at-risk groups. In the end, ETH was able to draw a very positive conclusion regarding the examination session. There were no infections at exams, the separate rooms were not needed at all (secluded peripheral seats were sufficient) and the measures were followed by the students.
Based on the good experiences and the functioning protective concept from summer, the winter session was planned to be in presence from the beginning, especially since the examinations in the sessions are usually of high stake and can often have serious consequences, such as in the case of first-year examinations. In addition, the aim was to ensure fairness and to combat the problems with increased dishonest behavior that have been observed at some other swiss universities. Furthermore, the rectorate has communicated that students can unbureaucratically cancel their registration up to one hour before the start of the examination. If a block of exams can only be partially completed, only the exams that have not yet been written will have to be rewritten and the results already achieved will be transferred. More about this here.
We at VSETH support the planning process with presence exams. We believe that the quality of exams in presence is significantly higher and students generally benefit more from a regular exam situation.
There is no perfect solution
However, new problems arise with this approach. What happens to people who are in quarantine during an exam? Do all these students now have to study at least one semester longer because of this? Doesn’t this give an incentive to throw overboard any sense of responsibility regarding infection reduction and corona measures and show up for an exam anyway? These and many other concerns about session exams have reached the VSETH board over the past month and we too have been racking our brains looking for solutions.
First of all, let’s start by saying that anyone who disobeys an officially ordered quarantine is in violation of the Epidemic Law and the COVID-19 Law. However, in our opinion, everything should be done to avoid this temptation in the first place. We strongly understand and support these concerns of the students.
Since the beginning of the semester, we have been in close contact with the rectorate and are able to provide feedback and suggestions for improving the exam situation through our monthly meetings. Two concrete suggestions made were the possibility for repetition exams in the same mode (written exams) and the other being the possibility to take exams simultaneously online in case of quarantine. We have generally found that there is no satisfactory solution to all problems on this topic.
We have repeatedly brought the concerns of the student body to the rectorate and proposed solutions. The rectorate is aware of the students‘ concerns, not least because of the petition submitted. However, after extensive discussions, they have decided not to pursue any of the proposed solutions or other alternatives. On the one hand, mode changes in examinations are ruled out and on the other hand, from their point of view, no proposed alternative meets the quality standards of ETH.
The current situation is unsatisfactory as the tempting incentives still exist. However, the Rector has made her decision and therefore this will be implemented. Part of this decision is also to grant the extension of the study period where this is necessary due to consequences of Corona. This will also be ensured by her successor. So if you have problems with your study period, you should contact ETH (preferably early) so that you do not run into problems later on.
VSETH will continue to work tirelessly under the given conditions to help shape the exams in the best possible way. However, since this blog is aimed at you, we welcome any questions you may have about these or for other possible topics that arise in your environment. As VSETH, we would like to thank you for the patience and strength that you have shown us during this semester and assure you that we are doing our very best to seek the best possible solutions for you. We look forward to working together because at the end of the day: It is your voice that counts!