Exam jitters extend to next term

August 11, 1995

A strike by state university lecturers and researchers that wreaked havoc with exams in Portugal last month is threatening to spill over into the next academic year.

The three-week strike over demands for a 26 per cent pay rise and a review of a 1989 reform of career structures ended on July 22, but only after forcing the postponement of thousands of university entrance exams and also end-of- year exams for degree courses.

The four university unions involved are demanding negotiations with Social Democrat president Cavaco Silva, bypassing Manuela Leite, the education minister who refused to contemplate reforms midway through the financial year.

The unions are now preparing action for the beginning of next term but, with a general election pending in October and a Catholic University opinion poll conducted for the media this month showing only muted public support for the lecturers, the government could try to ride out the dispute.

Lecturers refused to invigilate any exams during their strike weeks, leading to many cancellations. Secondary school pupils, angry that their own entrance exam was cancelled, also invaded some of the halls with invigilators, halting other exams.

University student associations, unhappy that their members' futures were left in the balance, called for a general postponement of all end-of-term exams until September, a move which could delay the start of the academic year.

University faculties in Lisbon, Coimbra, Evora, which were worst hit by the strike, have already postponed their own exams until September. Students at the University of Tras-os-Montes and Alto Douro boycotted July exams in solidarity with the lecturers, forcing the rector to postpone to September.

The national exam board for university entrance squeezed remaining exam sittings for school pupils between July 25 and 31.

"The decision allowed school leavers to enjoy their August holiday," said Meira Soares, board chairman and rector of Lisbon University. "It was the best solution possible, but far from perfect."

Admission to university depends on the results of school and university faculty exams in a range of subjects. But as the university entrance exams account for 50 per cent of their total mark pupils have been particularly vulnerable.

University students expecting to sit their finals were most incensed at the chaos. Some had already got their jobs lined up but will not get their degrees on time.

In the absence of finals and under pressure from their prospective employers, engineering students at Lisbon's Technical University are having their degree standards decided case by case.

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