COVID-19’s cancelled exams and grading issues create admissions challenges for universities


In almost every country, education has been disrupted by COVID-19. There have been widespread school and university closures, and a shift to online learning.

This blog looks at the question of qualification verification, and the additional challenges that arise from the educational consequences of COVID: missing or delayed exam results; variations in qualification documentation; and uncertainties over modified assessments and estimated grades.

UK NARIC has a specialised verification service – Qualification Checked At Source (QCAS) – which might help in cases like this.

Supporting a flexible approach

Over the last few months, final year students have faced uncertainty as they were preparing for their final exams. Would the exams go ahead or not? If not, how would they be assessed? When would they be able to graduate?

This uncertainty has also presented challenges for universities admitting students for further study, and has made it more difficult to confirm places for incoming students for the new academic year.

Admitting institutions want and need to be flexible, and ensure that students who have faced difficult circumstances over the past few months are not disadvantaged by factors beyond their control.

The key challenge is to ensure fairness to students and build flexibility into processes, while at the same time ensuring that sufficient evidence has been obtained to prove that students meet the requirements for admission.

Verifying qualifications with the awarding institution, using UK NARIC’s QCAS service, can confirm graduation and attendance. In many cases, even if an applicant has been unable to produce the documents usually required, qualifications can still be verified at source.

Removing uncertainty

The global situation is still shifting, with national and local lockdowns, gradual reopening of educational institutions in some countries, and continued closures and online delivery in others. Even within a single country, the situation may vary between regions or even between universities. In many countries, universities have a high degree of autonomy to set their own policies, so there is not one unified national approach. This makes it difficult to track developments or understand the situations faced by different applicants.

Example: An applicant from Egypt claims she is unable to provide her degree certificate and transcripts because graduation has been delayed due to COVID-19.

This is quite possible; many universities in Egypt have delayed final exams rather than using alternative means of assessment. Some exams may take place as late as September, leading to certificates being issued much later than usual. However, the situation and the timing may vary between institutions. The QCAS service can check whether a student has graduated and confirm their attendance at their institution.

Protecting against fraud

Verification is often sought in cases that raise doubts or concerns, perhaps because documents are not consistent with previous examples of the same qualification, or because there are anomalies on the transcripts.

This is likely to be more common in documents for qualifications awarded in 2020, with disruption due to COVID-19 given as the reason for any inconsistencies.

Example: An applicant from India claims his transcript looks different to those from previous years because there are no exam grades listed for the final semester. The exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Many university exams were cancelled across India and students have been graded based on past performance and internal assessment. It is possible that in some cases transcripts will look incomplete or different. Documents from Indian universities vary.

Example: An applicant from the USA claims she was given full marks for some modules because the final exams were cancelled.

Universities across the world have tried to ensure that students are assessed fairly and that their degrees will not be viewed any differently to other cohorts, so this would be highly unusual. However, approaches to grading and assessment may have been different to previous years. Some universities and colleges in the US did use a pass-fail grading system for courses taken in the spring semester this year so students would not be disadvantaged. In some cases this was optional; in others it was mandatory.

Fraud is a serious and growing problem in normal times. The uncertainty and disruption created by COVID-19 may provide a convenient smokescreen for those attempting to make fraudulent applications. QCAS is a valuable tool to protect against fraud as qualifications are verified directly with the awarding institution.

Finding out more about verification

If you are interested in further information about UK NARIC’s QCAS service, please email jasmine.bryan@naric.org.uk

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