Students in higher and further education are being assured that they will not be penalised if they cannot take part in an alternative assessment that is replacing a traditional exam this year.
New guidelines make clear that such students can progress, as expected, and will have opportunities to complete assessments at a later point.
Because of the Covid-19 crisis, no written, oral or practical assessments in the sectors will be physically held in an exam or test centre until restrictions have been lifted.
Instead, assessment options across the tertiary education sector include online exams, written assignments or rescheduling.
But, there is a concern, for instance, that students who do not have access to technology or internet connectivity may not be able to complete online assessments.
A student’s access to broadband is one of the issues that new guidance on the exams asks college to take into account in their arrangements.
Another issue that has arisen for some students is the cancellation of work placements, completion of which is a prerequisite for graduation or progression to the following year.
Last week, the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association, representing TU Dublin and the institutes of technology, announced that they had finalised alternative exam arrangements.
Now Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor has confirmed that the same work had been completed for all colleges in the higher and further education sectors.
Guidelines published by the educational standards agency, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) set out the broad principles underpinning what has been agreed.
The minister said she wanted to reassure students “that even though alternative arrangements have been put in place standards will be upheld. We can all be confident that qualifications achieved this year will be valued and regarded exactly as in any other year.“
The guidance document states that students expecting to graduate this year were a top priority, although it acknowledges that completion of programmes or graduations may not all to be the original timescale.
The guidelines also addresses the issue of students who may not be in a position to complete a work placement or an assessment component because of the new circumstances.
These students will “not be penalised”, the document states. They may progress as expected and “will have opportunities to complete their studies at later point in time.”
As well as students who have issues around broadband access, QQI has also urged colleges to be aware of the particular needs of students who are more vulnerable, those who contract Covid-19 or are caring for others, students from overseas, work-based learners and students with disabilities or those with mental health issues.
The Union of Students in Ireland has endorsed the QQI guidance, but its president Lorna Fitzpatrick said these were sectoral guidelines and there was a need for individual colleges “to work with their student unions to develop policies that mitigate any disadvantages that students may face.
Thousands of students in Irish universities have signed a petition seeking a “no detriment” policy to act as a “safety net” to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far in the year, provided they pass the semester.