University community boycotts examinations

The Union of Tunisian University Teachers and Researchers has called on members to boycott sit-down remedial exams as well as the discussion of graduate projects. They are protesting against a government decision to proceed with the examinations in mid-July, despite a surge in the country’s COVID-19 cases.

According to a statement by the union, the examination for students who did not meet the requirements of their courses posed a “real danger to the lives of all members of the university community”.

The union said that, although the country’s vaccination drive included university staff, a large number of staff has not yet received the vaccination, according to a 1 July statement.

Tunisia is the second of 10 Arab North African countries after Morocco where university teachers are currently vaccinated as a priority group.

The union added that the decision to boycott face-to-face exams was taken amid a collapse in the health system as a result of an explosion in COVID-19 cases leading to a situation in which the university community did not feel safe.

“The Tunisian Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi, ignored our 1 July calls to intervene to postpone the remedial examination session to a later date in September, similar to last year, when the epidemiological situation was not comparable to what we are experiencing now,” said the union.

The union accused Olfa Benouda, the higher education and scientific research minister, of sacrificing the university community to “serve her personal agendas and market fake achievements”, such as making the university year appear to have been successful.

COVID-19 status

In Tunisia, the daily infection rate has reached 5,000, according to Reuters COVID-19 Tracker.

According to the tracker, there have been 438,945 infections and 15,261 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.

Tunisia has fully vaccinated only almost 8% of its population of about 12 million.

In the North African region, Tunisia ranked second in terms of COVID-19 infections and deaths, followed by Morocco and Egypt respectively.

‘Inadequate measures’

The ministry of higher education and scientific research on 2 July issued a statement indicating the postponement of the training courses scheduled for the period 1 to 21 July in response to the decision of the national committee that deals with COVID-19 to suspend all scientific, sports or cultural events.

But Najmuddin Juweidah, the general coordinator of the union, told University World News these measures were inadequate. “This is not enough to protect lives,” he said.

“The university community has only two options – continuing with the exams with the [accompanying] risk of COVID-19 infections and death because of a collapsed health system, or saving the university family and those around them and protecting their lives by postponing remedial examinations,” Juweidah added.

“The university community has suffered in silence and now we have no choice but to boycott exams amid the COVID-19 surge,” Juweidah emphasised.

Universities ‘not heard’

Professor Sami Hammami, the vice-president of the University of Sfax in charge of programmes, training and professional integration, told University World News: “The union’s call for the postponement of a second [remedial] session of exams does not seem to have been heard by the authorities.

“This difficult COVID-19 situation in Tunisia must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Universities which are in areas severely affected by the virus should take protective measures or at least postpone exams because people’s health matters more than anything else,” said Hammami.

“University institutions lack the financial and human resources to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, and, the fragility of the health system and the slowness of [the] vaccination [programme] have accentuated the problem,” Hammami pointed out.

“Strategic choices should be reviewed to facilitate the care of patients and give higher education institutions the necessary means to defeat this war,” said Hammami.