The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Safety concerns revived at campuses as finals approach

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : Dec. 1, 2020 - 15:57

    • Link copied

A street near Yonsei University in Seoul is empty last month after new COVID-19 cases were reported from students at nearby colleges. (Yonhap) A street near Yonsei University in Seoul is empty last month after new COVID-19 cases were reported from students at nearby colleges. (Yonhap)
As the second semester nears its end, a debate is being rekindled on campuses – should final exams be held in-person or online?

While most universities leave the matter up to lecturers to decide, who appear to favor physical attendance to prevent cheating, students fear the risk of infection, as young people have been pointed to as potential silent spreaders of the virus.

As the nation undergoes a third wave of coronavirus infections, the number of college students diagnosed with COVID-19 rose to 139 last week, the highest weekly figure compiled by the Education Ministry so far. Since September, some 440 college students have been infected with COVID-19.

Some universities, including Yonsei University and Kyung Hee University in Seoul, made it a rule that all final exams be held remotely, but most other institutions have not gone that far.

Seoul’s Sogang University has transferred the choice to the hands of each professor, but asked classes to score final exams by absolute evaluation if conducted remotely.

Nearby, Hongik University set in-person exams as the standard, but asked professors to consider running online examinations or find alternate ways to evaluate. Blocks away, Ewha Womans University is encouraging classes to run final exams on campus.

At Korea University, also in Seoul, in-person exams are the rule unless the government-set social distancing scheme is raised to the highest Level 3.

“I’m pretty sure universities learned a lesson or two from running final exams online in the first semester,” said a second-year student at Sogang University, who wished to remain anonymous for this story.

“Grading standards can be changed, and classes could request research reports or essays instead of running final exams. I don’t know why some colleges and professors are insisting on in-person exams.”

Students are worried of taking exams with dozens of others in enclosed classrooms. Universities are enforcing strict mask-wearing rules and body temperature checks, but students believe there still remain chances of virus transmission, they say.

“What if I take the test right next to an asymptomatic patient?” said a freshman at Hongik University who also wished to remain unnamed.

“I would be wearing a mask, but I’m not sure whether that would fully protect me from COVID-19. There is a chance that college students like us serve as the origin of another coronavirus wave.”

In response to such concerns, student councils of local universities are engaging in conversations with professors and university administrators to move exams online. They are asking universities to prioritize the health of students, faculty and staff members before anything else.

“Disinfection efforts on campus are not enough to mitigate infection risks stemming from running in-person exams,” Korea University’s student council said in a statement Sunday.

By Ko Jun-tae (