The National Council of University Students held an extraordinary telematic meeting to produce the First Health Emergency Report. This contains the critical issues and proposals related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent
to the suspension of university teaching according to the DPCM. 4 March 2020.
We reproduce the document provided to the Ministry of University and Research and to the new Minister Gaetano Manfredi, to whom we renew our best wishes for the appointment.

The First Health Emergency Report document is divided into several sections and is reproduced here in full:

The worsening of the health emergency linked to the spread of COVID 19 led to the suspension of teaching in all Italian universities on Wednesday, 4 March 2020. On the one hand, this worsens the situation of great stress to which the university system of Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino Alto Adige was already subjected, regions which, given the presence or proximity of the “red zones”, or in any case a strong presence of confirmed contagion, had already seen the suspension of university activities and had already been affected by the Prime Ministerial Decree of 1 March 2020 and, previously, by the Prime Ministerial Decree of 25 February 2020, on the other hand to extend this condition to all universities in the national territory for a period of time that, although limited by the decree to 10 days, could actually prove to be longer.

In this regard, the purpose of this report, which is the result of the discussion that the CNSU had with the Secretariat of the Minister for Universities and Research on 4 March 2020, is to identify in detail the problems related to the suspension of teaching that have occurred in the universities in the affected areas, but also to make a prognostic assessment of those that could occur in the rest of Italy, to which the most recent decree has extended the rules, with the intention of alerting the competent bodies and identifying as soon as possible solutions that can prevent the occurrence of such problems.

Specifically, the CNSU intends to:

More specifically, the CNSU intends to pursue, in concert with all the players in the academic community, the direction that emerged from the above-mentioned round table. That is to say, to promote the implementation of all the necessary measures to ensure that the current state of health emergency and related measures. These must not compromise the progress of students’ university careers and the quality of the same. In the conviction that the University’s activities represent a value and a resource in social, economic and cultural terms. The Country System must be committed to preserving it in a primary way, even and especially in emergency situations.

1. Right to Education – First Health Emergency Report

1.1 – Expiry of merit requirements

The CNSU has notified ANDiSU of the deadline for verifying the criteria for the second instalment of scholarships and confirmation of accommodation. This is set for 28 February in the Emilia Romagna call for applications and 29 February in the EdiSU call for applications in Piedmont. It is requested that these deadlines be extended. From this point of view, the Regional Agency for the Right to Higher Studies of Emilia Romagna has confirmed that the problem has been solved. A reply from the Piedmont agency is awaited. The prolongation of the suspension in the regions most affected by the crisis and its extension to the rest of the Italian regions, together with the suspension of teaching and profit examinations, means that the possibility of students achieving these requirements and obtaining the necessary CFUs by 10 August may be compromised.

From this point of view, it is necessary to

From this point of view, an extension of the deadlines is necessary wherever this eventuality occurs. This must take into account the period of suspension of activities while ensuring that this does not affect the timing of the grant itself, thus avoiding any delays. We also believe that it is necessary, where necessary in order to guarantee the payment of scholarships, to make exceptions to the ordinary merit criteria. This extension must also be applied to all Right to Education benefits that require similar merit requirements. The implementation of these measures requires coordination between the Ministry, ANDiSU and CRUI, especially in the Lombardy region, where calls for applications are the responsibility of individual universities.

We also draw attention to the problem of students who have completed 150 hours of collaborations and have not been paid. This is due to the suspension of activities, and also to those students who, having completed only part of their timetable, see their activities interrupted. In the first case, students must be paid what they are owed; in the second case, we suggest that students be given the possibility of choosing whether to interrupt their course and have their hours paid or to resume their activity at the end of the emergency suspension.

1.2 – Right to Education Services

It is also necessary to point out that in many regions, for example Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, grants are awarded in the form of direct services (mainly canteen services). In these cases, the suspension of these services naturally causes an indirect economic loss in terms of benefits to the beneficiary student. It is therefore necessary to provide for compensatory measures to prevent an “indirect” cut in the grants, discriminating against students in the regions concerned.

2. Didactics – First Health Emergency Report

2.1 – Lessons and curricular placements

The suspension of teaching generates, especially for out-of-town students, an obvious postponement of university courses. As a result, individual academic careers are delayed, there is a lack of certainty in taking examinations and there is uncertainty about the necessary journeys. In this sense, in the universities of the most affected areas and already affected by the suspension, forms of distance teaching have been experimented with relative success. Given that the Prime Ministerial Decree of 4 March indicates that this practice should be used where necessary in the rest of the country, the CRUI and the Ministry of Universities and Research should support universities that have difficulty in implementing such measures for economic, organisational or other reasons. 

We also ask that this be done by considering financial support to equip universities with the necessary digital infrastructure. The fact that it is impossible to ascertain whether students actually attend distance learning courses should lead universities to recognise such attendance ‘ex officio’. It is also necessary for universities to carefully monitor the quality of teaching. In our view, it is up to the universities to ensure that distance learning does not fall short of the quality of traditional lectures; cases have already been reported where teaching has been reduced to uploading slides or texts.

The Decree of 4 March enjoins

The Decree of 4 March also calls for the suspension of curricular traineeships, excluding those in the medical area. These traineeships involve an assessment and are mandatory for university career progression. It is therefore necessary to provide for adequate extensions, where the interruption would jeopardise the achievement of CFUs for the purposes of the Right to Study or as a requirement of other university announcements (150 hours, Erasmus, various types of bonuses, etc.), as well as the possibility of subsequently carrying out these internships within a reasonable period of time so as not to compromise the university career. The same decree lacks clarity with regard to internships, both curricular and extracurricular, that take place outside university facilities. This has already caused a number of problems due to the uncertainty of how the activities are carried out. Clarification is therefore needed from the Ministry.

2.2 Profit examinations

For the same reason as in the previous point, it is necessary to provide for extraordinary appeals during the semester for universities where some exams have been missed. In this regard, the Ministry, in the context of the discussion round table, responded positively by informing the universities. However, the universities will have to decide for themselves whether and how to make up the missed exams. The Ministry also suggested the use of telematic systems despite the obvious difficulties for students and teachers. We therefore request that the possibility of conducting profit examinations in the presence of the candidate and the commission should not be excluded, where this is permitted by the hygiene rules laid down in the Prime Ministerial Decree of 4 March. We also feel it is particularly urgent to point out the need to guarantee profit exams especially for students about to graduate.

2.3 – Degree Sessions

Particularly in the affected regions, the postponement of graduation sessions in March could jeopardise the possibility of undergraduates taking part in public competitions and any calls for applications requiring a bachelor’s or master’s degree as a requisite. The parties present at the round table requested that the scheduled graduation sessions be held behind closed doors, in the presence of the graduating student, the graduation committee and at least two witnesses (the minimum number allowed by law), avoiding crowds and in compliance with the provisions of the aforementioned Prime Ministerial Decree, preferring this solution to online discussion and proclamation. To date, there is no precise indication of this at ministerial level.

However, some universities have already started to set up telematic systems for degrees. We would also like to point out the problems arising from the bringing forward, in some universities, of the graduation session for nursing degree courses. In particular, we are concerned about those students who are unable or unwilling to take the examination in advance and risk being overtaken in the civil service rankings by colleagues who have benefited from the early session. Considering that the main reason for this choice is the fear that the qualification obtained in this way will be considered of lower quality, it would be useful to have a guideline from the Ministry to refute this concern.

3. Medical Licensing – First Medical Emergency Report

The chronic shortage of specialist doctors and the reduction in the NHS workforce is most evident in this period of health emergency. The increased demand for assistance from citizens is echoed by the further reduction in the number of health personnel available due to illness and preventive quarantine. Some Regions and Hospitals are recalling retired doctors or making urgent recruitment plans.

In this scenario, however, the first useful session of qualification to the medical profession has been postponed from 28 February to 7 April 2020. This means that until that date, it will not be possible for many medical graduates to practice the profession and that, for those admitted to the Regional Courses of General Medicine 2019-2022, in light of art.24 paragraph 2 of DL Covid-19 of 28.2.2020, it is impossible to perform the tasks referred to in art.19, paragraph 11 of Law 448\200, nor to participate in the assignment of conventional appointments pursuant to art.9 of DL 135\2018.

We therefore point out the need not to further postpone the date of this medical qualification session, by already starting to plan how the test will be held. The propose is to identify at least one location per Italian province, in order to avoid overcrowding of the classrooms where the tests are held, the excessive movements of the candidates from their place of residence and the protection of the interpersonal safety distance of at least one metre as provided for in Article 1, paragraph 1 of the Prime Ministerial Decree of 4.3.2020.

We also ask

In addition, we ask that the possibility of enrolment in the next qualifying session (scheduled for 7 July) be guaranteed. This is to be done even after the session scheduled for 7 April; in order to protect candidates who are unable to attend for personal or health reasons.

We request that, in order to ensure the highest number of qualified doctors in the shortest possible time; students who graduate by 6 April should be allowed to sit for the licensing examination scheduled for 7 April. This is subject to the condition that they have already completed their practical assessment placements and have applied for the 7 July 2020 session.

In compliance with what has already been approved by the CNSU; in its meeting of 13 November 2019, we request the scheduling of a third habilitation session for 2020. This as, moreover, already provided for by DM 58/2018, in the month of November in order to protect the graduates of the autumn session.

4. Economic support measures for students living in the so-called “red zones” and support for students with particularly vulnerable conditions – First Health Emergency Report

We believe that total exemption from university taxation for the 2019/2020 academic year is necessary for students in the red zones; identified now and subsequent to the sending of this report, without this burdening the budget of the universities. The problem of all those students who are immunocompromised, who are in close contact with other immunocompromised persons; of students abroad whose return is impossible due to the current emergency, who are in a state of quarantine, who reside in red zones; and of providing protection for the specific needs and problems that they may present, also arises forcefully. To this end, we believe it is appropriate to request greater timeliness and precision in communicating the measures adopted.

5. Provision of PPE to medical students, postgraduates and doctoral students – First Health Emergency Report

It is requested in the First Health Emergency Report that all Prevention and Protection Service Managers of university and hospital facilities; where courses for doctors in specialist training, specific training courses in general medicine; the activities of trainees in the health professions and doctoral students in the medical area who provide assistance are held. As well as the activities of the training schools run by the Ministries of the Interior and Defence; we invite to also provide students, postgraduates and doctoral students with PPE in accordance with the appropriate prevention measures; for the spread of respiratory infections laid down by the World Health Organisation (cf. DPCM of 4.3.2020);

6. Conclusions

In general, it seems more appropriate to call for the extension of all deadlines linked to the achievement of CFU, where suspension would jeopardise students’ ability to accumulate the necessary credits in time, as the main measure to prevent the interruption or delay of students’ careers or participation in selection or pre-selection tests.

In the management of the entire emergency at university level, we would like to stress the difficulty of coordination between the Ministry, the Regions and the universities. Therefore, on behalf of the student community, we ask all the actors at national and local level to take responsibility and to share the measures put in place. This is in order to cope with the current crisis and above all in the dissemination of clear, precise and timely information to the student body. In addition, to limit inconveniences, especially with regard to out-of-town and international students who need to plan their return to their university in good time.

This is also why we reiterate the willingness and availability of the CNSU to cooperate in order to respond to all issues. It is available to all stakeholders at national and local level, to student representatives, as a reference for information and communication. In following a situation that is still in flux and requires the commitment and cooperation of the entire Italian academic community.

Unilab Svoltastudenti

Carlo Giovani – Matteo Giugovaz

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