Exam action to hit distance learners in 130 countries

The London School of Tropical Medicine may have to postpone its tests for 1,600 students because of the AUT's boycott. Lydia Stockdale reports

More than 1,000 students in 130 countries could have their examinations postponed because of the Association of Teachers' assessment boycott at one London institution.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has missed its deadlines for the completion of examination papers. These should be ready now to send to the 1,600 students taking distance-learning courses, but they are not because academic staff have refused to set the questions.

The institution, which is part of the University of London, is feeling the effects of the boycott sooner than other institutions because it must set its exam papers early to allow plenty of time to send them overseas and co-ordinate the examinations process.

"We are extremely concerned," said Wendy Surridge, secretary and registrar of the school. "The distance-learning examinations were ready this time last year."

She said that if a resolution between the AUT and the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association was not reached by the end of April, the distance-learning exams would have to be postponed.

"There has been no sign of movement (in the dispute) at national level; there has been nothing to tell us whether this is a one-month or a six-month problem," she said.

"We are concerned that we will have to take drastic action. We will have to reset the dates - to rearrange the examinations in more than 100 countries will be a complete nightmare."

The school is a world leader in delivering distance-learning courses, mostly in subjects related to public health, including health-systems management.

The assessment boycott risks affecting the work and careers of public health professionals in the developing world because it will hit students in countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, The Gambia and India.

"The students who are due to take these examinations are going to be the major players in their areas," Ms Surridge said.

"We would make sure that the students are not affected by this as far as we could. The situation is recoverable. We would have to rearrange - it would just take a lot of work."

But the fear for the school is that, despite its best efforts, sufficient disruption will be caused to tarnish its international reputation. "It is clearly a worry, especially if the dispute goes on for any length of time," Ms Surridge said.

She said that the school understood why AUT members were taking action and that it had a good relationship with the local and the national AUT. "As far as we can be, we are supportive," she said. "But the longer the dispute goes on, the bigger the impact."

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