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Despite coronavirus, students score higher on exams

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University students across Belgium are seeing success with their exams, despite the modified instruction, social isolation, and an overall increase in stress as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the Ghent University, the percentage of students who passed their exams in the first semester rose from 44.7% to 47.8%.

“A striking and reassuring observation is that there were more people present. Even the first-year students were more present than usual,” Rector Rik Van de Walle told De Standaard.

In fact, the effect is even stronger amongst first-year students, who were a particular point of concern when it came to the effects of the new measures.

 

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Experts worried that the lack of a “true” college experience which would significantly – and negatively – affect their initial impression of university life and subsequently, their motivation.

But when it came to first-year students, 24.5% of them passed all of their subjects, compared to 20.1% of freshmen the year before.

“Despite the ongoing corona crisis, students persevere and have been getting good or better grades,” reported the Odisee University of Applied Sciences, which saw similar results. Their overall passing rate rose by 4.3 percentage points compared to the year before.

“Although we see an increase in the results of first, second and third-year students, the first-years stand out,” Director of Education Ann Martin said. “The number of first-time students who attain at least 10 out of 20 has increased by 5.7 percentage points to 63.5%.”

In terms of what prompted the higher success rates, universities aren’t sure. Most didn’t offer more leniency.

“We really set the exam up to standard, just like in previous years,” said Pieter Cornillie, a professor of veterinary medicine at Ghent University.

He guessed that the lack of available distractions for students as a result of various coronavirus closures and mandatory social distancing could have been a contributing factor. “It may be crass, but there was nothing else for students to do.”

Universities haven’t had much time yet for an in-depth analysis of student performance, but are looking into it. As they do so, the mental health and wellbeing of students is at the forefront of their thoughts.

“Students themselves indicate that they feel that they have lived in ‘study mode’ for months,” said Rector Van de Walle. “Obviously, that is not purely positive. We have to recognise that many young people have had and continue to have difficulties.”

A survey by the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) published yesterday found that three out of four students were experiencing high stress levels regarding the results of their exams.

“More than half of the students are concerned about having a successful end to the academic year,” said Caroline Pauwels, a rector there. “We keep a close eye on the well-being of students and correct or tighten the supporting policy.”

KU Leuven, VUB and the University of Antwerp are expected to release their own findings later, and exams at some universities – like AP Hogeschool – are still underway.

Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times