British Columbia

COVID-19 a major concern for students at UBC's in-person exams

Fears over hundreds of students being packed tightly together in exam halls while people with COVID-19 symptoms could show up to write finals has prompted a call for the cancellation of in-person exams at the University of British Columbia.

Student society issues public letter calling for cancellation of in-person exams

Numerous students have expressed concern over in-person exams scheduled for this weekend at the University of British Columbia, saying exam rooms are packed amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Fears over hundreds of students being packed tightly together in exam halls while people with COVID-19 symptoms could show up to write finals has prompted a call for the cancellation of in-person exams at the University of British Columbia.

The university's Alma Mater Society issued a public letter to the administration saying students have come forward expressing concerns about the lack of distancing in exam halls, as well as symptomatic students attending these exams.

Eshana Bhangu, the society's vice president of academic and university affairs, said an "overwhelming" number of students have reached out to share their concerns.

She said the society has heard of little social distancing, people testing positive and attending exams, as well as students being forced to sit on the floor and write their exams due to a lack of space.

"I'm looking for the university to demonstrate some leadership," Bhangu said in an interview.

She added that the university was able to quickly transition to online learning when the pandemic first began.

"I understand there's logistical challenges, but they've shown they can do it before," Bhangu said. "It's a matter of being willing."

The requests come after the University of Victoria cancelled in-person exams with a day's notice due to a COVID-19 outbreak driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Other universities across the country, including Queen's University, have also done the same.

Students and staff throughout B.C. universities have criticized the province for not posting COVID-19 exposures publicly. Very few public exposures or outbreaks have been reported at UBC, leading to an unofficial tracker listing potential exposure notices sent to students.

UBC's Vancouver campus falls under the purview of Vancouver Coastal Health, which has seen a spike in cases as of late.

 

Kurt Heinrich, the university's senior director of media relations, said in a statement that administration has told deans that they may work with their staff and professors to transition exams online where appropriate.

But he added that it would be left up to professors and academic staff to determine if an exam could be done online.

"Each university's situation is different and at UBC we continue to receive assurances from public health and the provincial government that we are not currently seeing a spike in cases that present a risk to the health of our students, faculty and staff," he said.

"We have been advised that we have significant controls and measures in place to keep our community safe."

Students are pictured at UBC's Vancouver campus. A university spokesperson says they are following the advice of public health authorities regarding in-person exams. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'Incredibly alarming'

Daniel Dian, a second-year undergraduate student at UBC's business school, said videos showing hundreds of students "stacked together" in exam halls were alarming as reports surfaced of students going to exams after testing positive for COVID-19.

"I know that UBC wants to say that we should be reassured that the transmission of these in-person examinations is low," he said. "Quite frankly, it's very hard to believe."

Dian says UBC's standard exam deferral policy for those who are sick is "incredibly inconvenient," leading many who are sick to choose to go to exams instead.

"During a time like this, I'm very surprised that the university has not put forth more policies that make it more accessible for students ... to take their exams at a later date." 

New public health restrictions are set to come into effect in B.C. on Monday over fears of the Omicron variant overwhelming hospitals.

They include a 50-per-cent capacity limit on venues that hold more than 1,000 people, a ban on youth and adult sports tournaments over the winter holiday period, and the cancellation of all New Year's Eve parties.

With files from Akshay Kulkarni and Janella Hamilton

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