By Claire Quinn and Darren Skelton
DESPITE Waterford Institute of Technology’s main campus being located in Waterford City South, which at one point recently had the highest incidence of Covid-19 anywhere in Ireland, the Institute is ploughing ahead with plans to hold end of semester exams on campus.
Currently, WIT is preparing to facilitate close to 450 students into the main hall for a host of exams starting on December 15 and running into December 22.
A lecturer who asked to remain anonymous told the Waterford News & Star this week that the decision by WIT to continue with the main hall for its exams was “irresponsible” and “showed a total disrespect to the local community”.
“Despite lecturers and students alike saying that the use of the main hall for exams was inappropriate, the college seems to be proceeding anyway, despite the alarming rise in Covid cases,” the lecturer said. “They should be using classrooms and smaller pods instead of packing so many into one room. Where’s the common sense?”
In the meantime WIT students started an online petition to move their Christmas exams online due to high case numbers in Waterford, especially they claim within the student population. As we went to print over 1,700 had signed the petition.
In particular, students expressed concern that should a person fall ill with Covid-19 and not want to defer until August, they could simply ignore symptoms and turn up for exams, as Covid-19 testing will not be taking place.
Already stressed that some exams are counting for 100% of their final year degree, they are also anxious about turning up to lectures and falling ill and the impact that may have on their education. Concerns were also raised about the spacing of students during exams.
Given the fact that exams were held online last year, they feel that students’ health, their family’s health and their degrees should not be put at risk.
A statement issued to the Waterford News & Star on Monday afternoon from WIT said, “In compliance with prevailing public health guidelines on-campus activity, including examinations, is progressing. We continue to monitor all health advice including in respect to the examinations which are scheduled to take place in a number of weeks.
“Higher education has been deemed an essential service and our current semester is running on campus. The examinations are included as part of our on-campus activity.”
The institute also e-mailed the students on the matter. In an email dated November 18, Dr Derek O’Byrne, Vice President for Academic Affairs & Registrar, began by saying that the Institute, “has delivered a substantial on-campus experience since the commencement of the academic year, as promised in our commitment to students. This has been underpinned by a strong focus and community effort on creating a safe environment in which to learn and study. It is our intention to continue to deliver on this on-campus experience in line with prevailing health guidelines which we constantly monitor.
“Traditional examinations are a component of that delivery, and it is how students have prepared throughout the year. On-campus, closed book examinations are fundamentally different to on-line open book exams and require different preparation and different student expectations. They are not interchangeable.”
All examinations held on the campus will be conducted in the safest possible environment, Dr Derek O’Byrne said, adding that they trust that “all learners will see the importance of ensuring the quality of their awards are maintained and that they are given the best opportunity to demonstrate their learning through appropriate assessments”.
Therefore, WIT said students could expect that on-campus scheduled classes will continue and to prepare for scheduled on-campus examinations.