The Comac students group in Belgium has initiated a survey to study increasing inequality in education and other problems faced by students in the country due to the COVID-19 situation. The survey was initiated on July 4, in the backdrop of controversies regarding the enrolment of students in the new academic session. There is concern among educators and within the student community that the shift to online exams due to the lockdown has disadvantaged students who lack access to the internet and related resources.
Responding to Belgian higher education minister Valérie Glatigny’s guarantee of better qualification rates in colleges and universities, Comac leader Octave Daube called for releasing the details of exam results (including the rate of failure), and said that the minister should not ignore inequality in education.
Following widespread campaigns and demands from student groups including Comac and the Federation of French-Speaking Students (FEF), and political parties like the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA), the incumbent coalition parties in the Belgium parliament tabled a decree this week allowing college and university students to remain financeable (entitled to scholarships and other aid) next year, even in the event of failure in exams. Due to the COVID-19 situation, each student will be able to re-register in next academic year.
The same government had in June rejected a proposal in the federal parliament by the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) which called for special consideration to students who failed exams and to organize remedies enabling students to catch up for lost time in the ongoing summer and the next quarter. Earlier, Comac had organized a campaign to demand replacement of online exams with formative assessments, especially during the COVID-19 period. “Online courses and exams pose enormous problems, have impacted the quality of education, and have also increased inequalities in higher education. One in four students does not have an adequate place to study,” as per Comac.
Comac is a student movement affiliated to the PTB/PVDA which is a major working-class political party in Belgium with 12 MPs in the present Chamber of the Belgium Federal Parliament. Currently, a coalition of the liberal Reformist Movement (MR), center-right Christian Democratic and Flemish CD&V party, and the Open Flemish Liberals & Democrats (Open VLD), led by Sophie Wilmès (MR) is in power in Belgium.