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Norway’s universities struggle with exams and admissions

Remote working plays havoc with testing of current and prospective students

Administrative university staff consigned to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic have said they are struggling to administer exams and manage student admissions.

Norwegian universities were ordered to shut on 12 March, but restrictions were loosened in late April. At present, researchers are allowed back into laboratories under certain conditions, as are students who are near the end of their studies and need to do work that requires their physical presence.

But the vast majority of students and university staff are still studying and working from home. According to university managers, this continues to pose a problem, especially in testing current and prospective students.

Administrative and teaching staff have had to reconfigure traditional written exams so that they can be taken digitally, while other exams have been converted to oral tests and assignments, according to Linda Fredriksen, a manager in the study section of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s faculty of social and educational sciences.

But these also present logistical challenges, she said. “For example, students should have the opportunity to consult with the subject teacher during the exam. But that’s not so easy to facilitate when 500 students are sitting exams in their own rooms.”

Fredriksen has also had to deal with queries from students who do not have a suitable environment at home to sit such an exam. She pointed out that not all students had great broadband connections or access to a quiet space in which they can concentrate for hours without distractions.

“We are being asked to help find suitable premises, but I am a little worried about how we can exercise infection control in these circumstances,” she said.

Marit Kirkevold, a department head in the nursing and health faculty at Oslo Metropolitan University, said it would be vital to adjust exams so they could be taken remotely. She told the Forskerforum, a website for Norwegian researchers, that issues remained around the possibility to cheat during digital home exams.

Kirkevold said that universities needed to be creative and practical when it came to adjusting traditional exams. “The exams must be designed differently in a home environment,” she said. “Students may have a shorter time to answer, for example, and by converting some exams into oral exams on a video link, it becomes easier to check students’ factual knowledge.”

Because of the coronavirus crisis, lecturers teaching courses that include application of skills have less time and opportunity to follow up on their students’ practical abilities. To compensate for this, a more in-depth response to written assignments has been provided.

In addition, there are plans to test students in practical exercises in June. “We still hope that it will be possible. Otherwise, it must be postponed until August,” said Kirkevold.

Administrative staff also have to deal with extra coronavirus-related work with regards to student admissions. Universities in Norway usually hire additional staff to help with reviewing and responding to applications. However, remote working and rules to prevent infection have made it difficult to find and train such staff.

“We have an extra heavy workload ahead of us,” said Ida Birgitte Ranes, an adviser in the academic administrative division at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “The period from May to August is particularly intense.”

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe