NUI Galway criticised for in-person exams as Students' Union cite Covid concerns 8 months ago

NUI Galway criticised for in-person exams as Students' Union cite Covid concerns

Tuesday's scheduled exams have been moved to Saturday.

NUI Galway has been criticised by the Students' Union for the conditions of exam halls as students attend in-person exams.

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The Students' Union had previously described the in-person exams as university management "playing Russian roulette with the health of students and their families".

In footage captured by students taking exams on Monday (6 December), one exam hall in particular appeared to have groups of students looking close together.

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Criodán Ó Murchú, an exam invigilator spoke on Liveline in relation to his experiences with attending exam halls, admitting that he was putting his job at risk by speaking about the conditions.

"There were a couple of emails sent to students in the lead up to exams, the most significant point from them being that exam venues would operate at 40-60% capacity," he said.

"Now immediately, that hasn't been seen whatsoever in the larger venues. So you've the likes of the Kingfisher Examination Hall has seating up to 850.

"That was full, aside from a couple absentees this morning, they were full.

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"As well as the Bailey Allen venue, which I'll be returning to in a couple hours hopefully, and the two venues in Salthill, the Leisureland and Galway Bay Hotel.

"So those venues were at 100% capacity so that immediately goes in contradiction with what the university put out."

Student Sarah Doherty called in to the show to share her experience sitting an exam in the Kingfisher hall.

"I'm not sure if you've seen the videos on Twitter, but it was shocking. You couldn't stretch out your arms without hitting the person sitting next to you, and there was one case of an invigilator refusing to wear a mask," she said.

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"I just feel like the college aren't listening to the students. Say, this time last year, we had our exams online, we had our summer exams online and now we're being forced to do them in person, you know, it's almost worse this year. I don't know what the college are trying to do."

Students are not required to be vaccinated to sit in exam halls.

TD for Galway West / South Mayo Mairéad Farrell said that she found the reports "concerning and clarification is urgently needed".

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In a statement to JOE, SU President Róisín Nic Lochlainn shared the Student Unions' concern in relation to the exams taking place.

"NUI Galway Students' Union is deeply concerned at reports from students who attended NUI Galway exam centres today," she said.

"Images and videos have been widely shared online of hundreds of students queuing outside exam centres.

"There have also been images of inside exam centres where there appears to be high numbers of students seated at desks quite close together.

"In the past week NUI Galway has assured us that exam centres would be at 40-60% capacity, but this is clearly not the case in what we have seen today.

"The Students’ Union has been very vocal about university management’s blatant disregard for student safety. We had hoped that some common sense would trump stubbornness, but unfortunately we were wrong.

"We have seen nothing today to allay our fears which is extremely insulting to students who have been under severe pressure in the past semester. This also affects the tremendous work of so many university staff who have adapted to a new way of teaching in the past eighteen months, and whose work is now being overshadowed by this reckless behaviour.

"This evening I have written to Minster's Harris and Donnelly to make a renewed appeal for intervention in NUI Galway in the interests of the health of students and their families."

NUI Galway shared the following statement with JOE when approached for comment;

“NUI Galway has been fully open and providing in-person on-campus education since early September as teaching and learning is an essential service.

“We are one of a number of higher education institutions which are holding in-person exams.

"About 40% of our students are sitting in-person exams. First years are not sitting in-person exams - they will be doing assignments under continuous assessment.

“The exams are being held strictly in line with public health guidelines, with significantly reduced capacity in venues along with increased ventilation, CO2 monitoring, intensive cleaning regimes such as electrostatic fogging and other safety measures.

“The layout of exam venues has students ca1.5m apart at least. The layout plan followed assessment of venues and measurements for required ventilation. The distancing is greater than students would be used to in lecture theatres and other settings, including extra-curricular events and activities and social spaces.

“Our library, which has a capacity of more than 1,300 at present, was on average more than 90% full during last week.

“In the Kingfisher exam venue, rows of desks are remaining unoccupied in all sittings and it is operating at about 25% of full seated capacity. Another large venue - the Bailey Allen Hall - has been used by students as a noisy study space this semester. It has a full seated capacity of 1,100 and our exam capacity this semester is about 400 seats. In Leisureland, which has a full seated capacity of more than 1,000, we have kept exam capacity to about 400.

“We have spread exams across 16 venues. Hundreds of students are being accommodated through other arrangements, including single rooms.

“We have also advised our students that they can request a deferral if they cannot come to campus because of Covid-19 and those students are being given an opportunity of an extra exam sitting in Semester 2.

"Students at NUI Galway have shown very high levels of compliance with public health guidelines on campus in an effort to keep our community safe and minimise the risk of the spread of Covid-19 and we thank them for that."

Exams that were due to take place on Tuesday 7 December have been moved to Saturday 11 November due to weather warnings associated with Storm Barra.