During the pandemic, the student, who was pursuing a Master’s degree in bioinformatics, had trouble accessing VU Amsterdam’s online exam environment due to the anti-cheating program Proctorio when her face was not recognised. She suspected this was because of her dark complexion and filed a complaint with the university, which denied that this was the case. It asserted that other students had also had login problems, and that these had nothing to do with their skin colour.

Important moment

The student then brought her case to the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, which issued a notable interim ruling. It claimed that scientific research had shown that facial recognition software generally performs worse on people with darker skin tones, and that this could lead to discrimination. Although VU Amsterdam had yet to defend itself, the Institute’s president, Jacobine Geel, called the interim ruling ‘an important moment in our ruling history’.

But the Institute’s final ruling, published yesterday, states that the university did not discriminate against the student by using the anti-cheating software. VU Amsterdam was able to show that the student’s login problems were due to issues unrelated to her skin colour, including a poor internet connection and the fact that she wore glasses.

Moreover, the Institute did not fault the university for not having the software pre-screened to prevent discrimination. It understood that VU Amsterdam, under pressure because of the pandemic, had relied on information provided by Proctorio itself.


The Institute did rule that VU Amsterdam had waited too long – seven months – to deal with the student’s complaint. Once it was picked up, however, it was processed ‘relatively swiftly’. According to the Institute, the delay was attributable to racial discrimination.

VU Amsterdam has apologised to the student. “As an inclusive university where the equal treatment of all students is a fundamental principle, we take full responsibility for the fact that the student did not feel sufficiently heard when she shared her experience.” The university’s complaints procedures will be reviewed by its executive board. VU Amsterdam also wants to re-evaluate whether it is a wise decision to conduct remote exams.


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