Pandemic Delays AUC’s 2021 Graduation Process: “The Only Response I Got Was ‘Out of Office’ Notifications”

By Levin Stamm

Collage by Anna Sazonov

After three years of hard work, early July’s 2021 graduation ceremony at AUC was supposed to be the crowning achievement for Social Science major Alexandru Teguş. He planned to walk to the stage, get his graduation statement and finally enjoy the summer. But the supposedly perfunctory process to get his graduation statement, which he needed to be accepted into his master’s program, would take nearly two months and more than 50 emails.

AUC’s managing director Dr. Belinda Stratton confirms that “in 2020 and 2021, the pandemic had a big impact […] on the steps of the graduation process”. Concretely, this resulted in delays for the graduation statement that is normally issued by the end of July. The graduation statement serves as a provisional confirmation that a student has successfully graduated until the official diploma is issued.

Stratton points out the process’s vulnerability to “backlogs and bottlenecks” – a consequence of the multiplicity of steps that have to be taken before a graduation certificate is issued. After receiving their last grades in early July, students submit their academic record check form to the registrar’s office. It ensures that all the requirements indicated in the form by looking at students’ academic record, saved in the Student Information System (SIS), are met. The SIS is UvA’s database for all student-related information. Then, the student file is passed on to AUC’s Board of Examiners (BoE) for a last cross-check and official confirmation.

According to Stratton, checking students’ academic record requires “meticulous attention” due to their individualised study programme when compared to other bachelor’s degrees. This, in combination with the COVID-19-related extended grading deadline for lecturers and a key staff member on long-term sick leave, led to the delays experienced by students.

Teguş and other 2021 graduates have experienced the BoE to be the bottleneck. “When I was in contact with the service desk in August, they told me that my file had been forwarded to the BoE, but that they were in recess until the end of the month,” Teguş says. AUC’s service desk told him that 50 graduates were in a similar situation – an approximate sixth of AUC’s Class of 2021.

Humanities graduate Chuyue Zhan wrote dozens of emails and attended several Zoom calls during August, desperately trying to find out when she would get her graduation statement. “The service desk repeatedly referred me to the BoE. However, the only response I got from them was ‘out of office’ notifications,” Zhan says. Like Teguş, she got her graduation statement at the last minute in the end of August and only after threatening to take legal action.

For Zhan, now completing a master’s degree in the UK, the graduation statement’s one-month delay had serious repercussions. “I had to apply for an express visa for an additional 200 British pounds,” she says. Signing a rental contract was only possible with a visa, which made her miss out on affordable options and most of her university’s introduction days.

Stratton states that “students became understandably anxious about the status of their […] statement of graduation request,” but notes that “no matter how urgent the request […], we can only issue them when we have verified that the academic record in SIS meets graduation requirements and this has been confirmed by the BoE”.

BoE chair Prof. Dr. Jan-Bouwe van den Berg declined to comment upon a request from The Herring.

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