Marks are challenged

October 20, 1995

A wrangle over the results of special university entrance exams in Portugal is spilling over into the enrolment season which ends in November.

Since publication of the results and initial allocation of higher education places on the basis of students' average percentage grade in mid-September, a group of parents of would-be students have mounted a public campaign against marking discrepancies in various subjects, particularly geometry, chemistry, biology and maths.

The nationwide exams were affected by a strike of university lecturers, who refused to invigilate. This led to an education ministry decision to divide the exam timetable into three different sittings: during the strike, outside the strike, and an extra period to accommodate missed exams.

Marking was to take account of these special circumstances. But discrepancies in marking region by region and statistical errors have aroused protests of unfair entrance treatment and a threat of court action.

Parents argue that the strikes meant two distinct exams were taken in some subjects and this has violated the rules of competition.

Carlos Ruela, one of a group who met with a justice minister's advisory body, gave an example of the statistical errors: "According to the national exam board's papers 122 pupils took the special biology test nationally when in Oporto alone about 900 took it."

The parents have called on the board to make extra university places available despite the squeeze on enrolments. There were some 80,000 applicants to university this autumn but state universities and polytechnics only had places for 33,500. The private sector is expected to soak up about 34,000 more students, leaving 13,000 out in the cold. The 5 per cent rise in university applications over last year has been matched with a 4 per cent drop in the number of applicants who cannot get their first choice of course. Results of the second round of university applications are expected on November 6 by which time the National Exams Board is expected to reply to parents' complaints.

Meira Soares, chairman of the national exam board, announced in late September that 30 people were affected by a marking mix-up involving design and descriptive geometry. Those mistakenly allocated a place still have a right to a place and an extra 11 places were created for those who had passed.

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