University students will not be required to sit for either oral or written final exams in classes this year. They will be graded based on an online exam or a research paper. Graduating seniors will have to wait for the resumption of universities to take their exams. And final grades will not be in numbers or letters; grades will be either pass or fail.
These were the decisions taken by the Supreme Council of Universities (SCU) earlier this week as part of precautionary measures against the novel coronavirus.
The council discussed the available alternatives for the continuation of the educational process in order to achieve the basic requirements and minimum standards for completing the curricula. It took into consideration the various methods of study and the conducting of examinations in universities while adhering to the measures taken by the state to limit the spread of the virus.
According to the council’s decree, exams will cover curricula taught online until 30 April. All students, except for graduating seniors, must either prepare a research paper or take an online exam. Each university is free to decide the method that best suits it and its students. “If the university decides to conduct online exams, it must make sure that all students have easy access to the Internet,” Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar said.
Abdel-Ghaffar said if the research paper of any student is inappropriate or if the student does not pass the online exam, the university should re-test the student using the same method. If the student fails for the second time, he or she will not advance to the following year. “The details of the research papers and online exams are to be announced by 7 May and students should submit their research papers or sit for the online exam by 31 May,” the minister said.
According to the decree, grades for both research papers and online exams will not be calculated or added to the students’ Grade Point Average (GPA). Grades will be either pass or fail.
Meanwhile, the faculties whose students require practical or clinical training will resume training after the end of the suspension period or at the beginning of the new academic year. The decree stated that students of these faculties are to undergo their practical exams after they finish the training period.
Every university, according to Abdel-Ghaffar, shall set the mechanisms and controls necessary to implement the regulations, taking into consideration the nature of the many faculties.
The minister decided that all graduating seniors would sit for their final term exam, however, the exact date is yet to be announced. “It is expected to be immediately after the end of the suspension of the current academic year,” Abdel-Ghaffar said, while adding that coordination with the concerned authorities is essential to overcome any obstacles that students might face due to the delay of their graduation.
As for post-graduate students, each university has the freedom to set their own exam dates.
While the minister’s decree caused controversy among many students, it was a relief to parents. Mona Mahmoud, a mother of two university students, said she was happy that universities now knew what they had to do. “We are now waiting to find out whether my children will take online exams or do research projects.”
Radwa Ali, the mother of a student at a private university, believes that the ministry’s decision was much needed. She said her daughter was not paying attention to her studies nor was attending her online lessons. “She was acting as if the academic year had ended. Thank God for the minister’s decree. Now, she must make some effort to pass this year,” she added.
Graduating student Nada Mohamed, 21, is disappointed by the minister’s decree regarding graduating seniors. “Why didn’t the minister allow us to either take online exams or submit research papers as other students? Now I have to study endlessly until the university sets a date for the exams. I want to graduate and start my real life. Enough with studying,” Mohamed said.
Freshman Mahmoud Atallah hopes that his university will assign them research projects “as this is much easier than having an online exam”. Ali Ahmed, another student, believes that online exams are the option he hopes his university will resort to.
Mohamed Al-Tayeb, spokesman of the Ministry of Higher Education, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the SCU was looking out for the welfare of all students in issuing its decree. However, he stressed that it would have been impossible to please everyone.
According to Al-Tayeb, the ministry has agreed with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to raise IT efficiency in universities. Though the ministry, according to Al-Tayeb, had been adopting e-learning even before the coronavirus crisis, there were a few technical problems at some universities but they have been solved. “All of Egypt’s universities are now ready for conducting online exams,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly