A group of 81 families with Spanish students who are in their second year of high school in the US and Canada are going to take legal action against the National Distance Education University (UNED) for its decision to cancel the Specific Competence Tests due to “technical incidents” ( PCE) —equivalent to the EVAU for students residing abroad— that their children took in Seattle between June 7 and 9. The distance university informed them in the first instance that they had to repeat the exams between Wednesday the 14th and Friday, but in a new email sent just 24 hours in advance, it changed the dates and indicated that the tests will be held on the 15th. and June 16.
Most of the students have decided not to go to Seattle this Wednesday to take the exam for the second time: “It is unfeasible. The disorder is total”, affirms Antonio Moreno, father of a student. Javier L. has his son two hours away from the American city and he will not show up for the appointment either: “We find ourselves in a situation of defenselessness and total impotence. No one has given us an explanation of what happened. We don’t know if the exams have been lost. The kids are sunk and see their access to the university in danger ”, he affirms.
The UNED sent an email to the families on Sunday afternoon, in which it informed that the international EVAU tests carried out in its classroom in Seattle (USA) were invalidated: “We are saddened to report that the PCE exams have been canceled due to technical incidents (…) We deeply regret the inconvenience caused by this technical incident beyond our control (…) To remedy this situation, you are invited to repeat the exams from Wednesday 14 to Friday 16 June in the center or classroom from the closest UNED”. This was the first message received by the families. Given the discontent generated, the UNED announced that it will take personal circumstances into account and offer an individual solution to the 81 students who will have to repeat the test. Some of the affected students had to travel to Seattle from Canada or from US cities after a four-hour flight.
The affected families have not been able to get in touch with any UNED manager, says Javier L., who regrets that “nobody with executive capacity” from this academic institution has attended them personally: “Nobody has given us an explanation or a solution” , he complains. “In the midst of the confusion, some parents were told that it was a digitization problem; in other cases, they had missed the exams. It’s a mind-blowing botch,” he adds. The university refers to the email in which they are summoned to “fill out a form” to repeat the tests.
In the first instance, they summoned the students between June 14 and 16, but in another communication they offer them the possibility of doing so between July 3 and 5 in “a place as close as possible to the student’s place of residence” in USA or even in Spain, says the father of a young Basque involved. Families fear that the publication of the qualifications will not be made before July 10, the deadline to pre-register at Spanish public universities. “The kids are risking their future and their entry into the university,” protests Javier L.
On Tuesday, one day before the new date to take the exams, the UNED released a note explaining the “technical incident” that led to the invalidity of the tests carried out at the American headquarters: “It is an error in the complex application computer science that distributes the exams for each center and that caused that the exams delivered to the students were not the ones that corresponded to them”. This error has put “at risk”, according to the distance university, “the reliability, objectivity and rigor that characterize the UNED tests”, the institution said in a statement.
The discontent has united the families in a platform that has already begun the procedures this Wednesday to put the case in the hands of a law firm and file a class action lawsuit for the “psychological and economic” damages that this situation is causing them. “We feel neglected,” says Javier L, who assures that there are already close to 60 affected people willing to go to court. Before taking this step, the families sent a letter to the rector of UNED, Ricardo Mairal, and to the Ombudsman for Students of this institution, María Fernanda Moretón Sanz. In it, they demand that “the validity of the tests be maintained” and that “alternative solutions” be sought that do not imply the cancellation of the exams and that “all the unwanted side effects” that they are enduring be repaired.
In the letter addressed to the rector, they recall that among the affected students there are young people who have passed this course improving their level of English in Canada and others who have traveled from other US states and even from other countries to take the tests in Seattle (on the west coast, in the north of the country). “In all cases, it has been a considerable investment of time, money and effort to travel to Seattle to perform these tests.” And they assure that the UNED email in which they were informed that the exams have been canceled was “devastating”.
“We are totally confused and do not know what to do to solve this problem,” they say in the letter. Javier L. maintains that there are cases in which it is “materially impossible” for them to retake the tests. “Many are 17 years old and in the US they cannot travel alone by plane, take a taxi or book a hotel. They need a companion. Some families have spent a lot of money, up to 4,000 euros, to move from Spain and be with their children in these tests. In other cases, American families have requested holidays to accompany them to Seattle.
The families communicate to those responsible for the UNED the “economic implications” of repeating the tests, in addition to the “psychological damage to the students because they are in inferior conditions compared to the rest of the students.” They argue that there is a “logistical impossibility” to hire flights and hotels in such a short time to go to take the tests again. “Students should not suffer the consequences of a technical problem at UNED,” they argue. And they add: “It is unfeasible to find a responsible person over 21 years of age” who assumes the responsibility of accompanying these students.
Antonio Moreno’s daughter had to travel to Seattle with a member of the family who welcomes her in the State of Washington. “Almost four hours by car one way and as many back to cover 400 kilometres. Do you have to take the exams again? The tests are today and they have not communicated the schedules. It is impossible to repeat this week. He is an absolute nonsense ”, comments this father, who claims to be willing to join the collective complaint against the UNED.
Moreno has advised his daughter not to go to the repeat tests in Seattle this Wednesday. The other option offered by the distance university is to examine these students between July 3 and 5 in the US or in Spain: “On those dates we go with our language out, with very little time to pre-register. These young people, through no fault of their own, are being discriminated against because they do not have the same conditions as the rest of the students who have taken the EVAU”, she says.
10,500 examinees in the world
The UNED, for its part, assures through the assistant vice-rector for University Access, José Óscar Vila Chaves, that the UNED “has held PCE exams between May and June in 133 locations in 59 countries spread over the five continents”. “The number of students who have taken the tests is close to 10,500, so the incidence that arose in Seattle affects 0.76% of the students who have taken the tests and 0.75% with respect to the localities in those that have been developed. These data are proof of the reliability of the testing system developed by the UNED and which for more than 30 years has been allowing international students to participate in the admission procedures to Spanish universities”, points out Vila Chaves.
Regarding the students from the US and Canada who took the exam in Seattle, UNED clarifies that it will guarantee the publication of the scores for the new tests before July 10. In addition, he conveys to the families his understanding for the “discomfort and concern” that his decision to cancel the exams may have caused the students and their families.
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