Last Thursday it was announced that the examinations board had revoked the degree certificates of at least fifteen students and that nearly one hundred exam marks obtained in proctored online exams had been declared invalid. Due to technical issues, it was impossible to ascertain whether or not the students in question had cheated during their exams. Several students are unhappy with the way the case has been dealt with and will appeal to the Examinations Appeals Board (CBE).

Education lawyer Paul Zoontjens feels that those students whose degree certificates were revoked, in particular, stand a good chance of winning their case on appeal. “I think the revocation of degree certificates that have already been issued and which have been registered with DUO is a bridge too far. Why would you issue a degree certificate only to revoke it? You must be on very good grounds to do so. Legal theory says that degree certificates can only be revoked if it is obvious that the student committed academic fraud. And in this case, it is not clear whether any fraud was committed.”

Forfeiting a right

Zoontjens does understand why exam marks assigned to students who may or may not have cheated were declared invalid. “The fact that the examinations board is tasked with safeguarding the quality of degree programmes is a good and valid argument. However, the committee must meet students halfway to the best of its ability. After all, there is no evidence proving that it was the student’s fault, or the software’s fault, or the university’s fault.”

The amount of time it took the examinations board to announce whether the exam marks were or weren’t allowed to stand plays a part in the discussion on whether the students must be met halfway. “If that takes too long, it may result in a party forfeiting a right. It means that the examinations board can no longer invoke the argument that the quality of the degree certificate must be safeguarded. It is up to the examinations board to make sure that students are not encumbered by delays. It was the university that hired this proctoring company, not the student.”

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