QUT Health Students have launched a viral petition this week, calling for the Health faculty to reverse their decision to host end of semester exams in person.
The petition, entitled “The Safety and Inequity Concerns of In-person Exams” has garnered 2000+ signatures in a matter of days, which asks for the Health faculty staff members to consider the enduring issues that the Coronavirus has had on students and the broader Brisbane community. They note that Queensland Coronavirus cases are currently the highest they have been since April. The issues they cite surrounding the in-person exams include; health and safety, fairness and equality, discrepancy between online learning and in-person assessment and student mental health. The open letter to the university suggests that the Health faculty should continue with the approach they took in Semester One 2020 for Semester Two, to the benefit of all health students.
Glass sat down with the student organisers of the petition, QUT Health students who wish to remain nameless, to ask them about their reaction to hearing exams are tabled for on-campus sitting sessions and their response to the incredible traction the petition has received in four days:
What most concerns you about the choice to have exams on campus?
There are several areas of concern relating to; health, fairness and equality, disadvantages of online learning and the impact on students’ psychological well-being. In fact, we have produced a letter outlining over 20 reasons (across these 4 areas of concern) as to why on-campus exams were a poor idea, whilst only one reason has been highlighted by the faculty so far. There are concerns for the safety and well-being of students, their families and the greater Brisbane community. If exams are to be held in person, there are many concerning questions being raised; how will they ensure our safety? How will they properly enforce social distancing measures with such a large capacity of people? Will they adequately sanitise each room between use? Will they provide masks? Exams often occur for two hours or more, which is 8 times the duration for exposure, as suggested by Queensland Health. On-campus examinations subjects students (and their families) to extreme risk. In terms of equity, it has been suggested that those who are unable to attend on-campus examinations will receive an alternate assessment piece. How will the same standards of academic integrity be upheld across multiple formats of assessment? For those who may find exams more challenging than assignments, are they disadvantaged? To ensure fairness, all students should receive the same assessment piece, under the same conditions.
How did this petition come about?
After various unit-coordinators revealed that exams were likely to be held on campus, students recognised the importance of expressing our concerns and banded together to draft a letter to the faculty. Discussions ensued surrounding the feasibility of on-campus exams, with many worried about the repercussions of such a decision. Concerns were raised by both students on placement and in essential healthcare positions, with a large percentage of them worried they may place their vulnerable clients at risk if they were to become infected. Health factors aside, many students also felt that the discrepancies between the online and on campus environment was too large to be ignored. Lecturers in the school of psychology have consistently advocated that the best outcomes are achieved when regurgitating content in the same format that it was learned. Therefore, with some units only offering partial in-person learning and others only providing an online format, this is a great disadvantage to all students. This petition was then organised by members of the psychology cohort on behalf of all students in the health faculty, to highlight the concern echoed by a large percentage of those students. Support for this petition grew quickly, with over 1,000 signatures gathered in under 12 hours. The petition is still growing in numbers, emphasizing the need for the faculties decision to be reconsidered.
Do you think the Faculty of Health is adequately considering the risks to student health?
We don’t think they are. It would be inconsistent and uncharacteristic of the faculty of health to not consider it’s students’ mental and physical wellbeing as grounds for exams to be provided online. Other faculties have taken this issue into serious consideration and have opted for online exams – this should not be different for faculty of health students. If regular capacity, in-person lectures and tutorials thus far have been deemed as too risky, it stands to reason that an exam environment should also be considered high risk. The university has a duty of care, and it seems this has been ignored. The only highlighted reason behind their advocacy for on-campus exams so far has been in the name of “academic integrity”, but academic integrity is not more important than the health and wellbeing of QUT’s staff and students. If one person in attendance is infected, thousands are at risk, which is likely considering a number of students reside in hotspots such as Ipswich. If just one person suffered due to an outbreak caused by holding exams on campus, would it really be worth it for ‘academic integrity’? Further, the university accommodated the needs of its students and staff last semester, so this semester should be no different.
Academic integrity can still be upheld in an online format as shown by the adjustments of prior online examinations. We plead with the faculty to reconsider their stance, and join with their students, rather than against, in these unprecedented times.
When asked about the traction the petition has received, one of the organisers said that, “Seeing how fast the petition blew up was both exciting and concerning. I was excited that it was gaining traction so fast, but also concerned that it seemed so many people were feeling the same way in that there was a lack of equity and concern for their wellbeing. Part of me feels optimistic that QUT will see how many students are concerned and realise this really is a big issue, but I also know there’s a big chance they’ll just blow the whole thing off and say no without even giving it proper consideration.”
The petition will be delivered to the Health faculty this week, and has received support from the QUT Guild’s Student Rights portfolio. Glass will provide updates as they arise.
Glass respects the students’ decision to remain anonymous. One of the students explained that, “in light of the recent circumstances where students have questioned university standards / conduct, I wish to remain anonymous so that there’s no risk of repercussions.”