The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized many aspects of daily life, and there is no doubt that students’ learning habits changed consequently. For many, our dependency on the online learning format is increasingly coming to the surface as IE transitions back to a more traditional and in-person university experience. For others, this transition is a welcome sign of our education returning to normal, even if that means in-person and handwritten exams. After almost two years of online classes, liquid learning environments, and Zoom struggles, IE has responded to this transition by changing its attendance policy. Needless to say, there are mixed opinions.
Above all, IE’s attendance policy last year was relaxed as students, on any given day, we’re able to freely choose between attending classes online or in person. As long that we choose either of those options, we would be marked as present. Of course, this policy was necessary for the reality of last year. With no access to vaccines, COVID was running rampant among students. An 8 pm curfew limited our class schedules, and many students were simply unable to travel to Spain.
Nonetheless, many students also took advantage of this relaxed attendance policy. I cannot count the number of times I saw my fellow classmates attending online classes in a car, on a beach, or walking around some random European city. Oh, look! < insert name of student> just drove past something that looked like the Arc de Triomphe. Hmm, the turquoise water and sandy beach in <insert name of student> ‘s video looks like the shores of Mallorca.
Nowadays, times have somewhat changed. According to IE’s most recent update, 83% of students are either fully vaccinated or have overcome COVID and have natural immunity. Socially speaking, we are also reframing our approach to the pandemic by accepting that COVID is endemic and that we learn to live with the virus realistically and safely. And in response to this, the most notable parts of IE’s new attendance policy are as follows:
- The obligation to attend 80% of sessions in master programs and 70% for bachelor programs will apply regardless of whether the student attends live in-person sessions on campus, remotely online, or asynchronous sessions. The consequence of failing to comply with this policy will imply a Fail grade for the current academic year, in ordinary and extraordinary calls for bachelor programs.
- If a student is in close contact, have casual contact, or presents symptoms compatible with COVID-19, the IE University health protocol must be strictly followed. Students with a red health passport will follow classes online until a green passport status clears their access to campus again.
- Personal trips, appointments, minor illnesses, or other personal matters will be considered an absence shall not be treated as an exceptional case.
- For In-Person programs, we expect students to attend classes on campus in person. Students can attend classes remotely(temporarily) for justified reasons such as quarantine, mobility restrictions, visa delays. This change must be communicated in advance and approved by Program Management.
I asked Carolina Villanueva Suarez, a 3rd year Law and International Relations student in Madrid, about IE’s attendance policy and its effect on her athletic career. Carolina trains for show jumping around 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, and competes 2 or 3 weeks out of the month. For her IE experience, she said, “IE, IEU athletics, and my heads of both LLB and BIR have always supported me through all of my endeavours. The attendance policy at IE is strict but, I think that it is a core value of the university and I fully respect and admire it.” Despite missing many in-person classes, Carolina says that “the key is in planning ahead and personally working hard and being incredibly proactive.”
Carolina’s story underlines an aspect of the university in general that must be taken into account. We are adults who should be mature and responsible enough to proactively plan ahead in response to missing classes and attend as many in-person classes as possible. I know that many of the complaints against IE’s attendance policy stem from a place of laziness. Students complain that they miss the convenience of waking up at 8:20 for an 8:30 class and logging on to Zoom. Students complain that they can no longer attend class in a Charles de Gaulle terminal. Frankly, get over it. We are adults spending loads of money to attend university, and we should be taking it seriously. IE’s new attendance policy cracks down on this laziness in a necessary way.
However, this does not mean that IE’s attendance policy is perfect and should not be adjusted. There still remain very legitimate flaws in the policy.
The biggest drawback of the attendance policy is point 3, which states that “minor illnesses will be considered an absence and will not be treated as an exceptional case.” Due to this, the risk of suffering an absence from class, loads of students are coming to campus with colds, or as it is more colloquially known, “the Segovian Flu”.
In any given class, I am surrounded by coughing and people blowing their noses. In fact, as I am writing this piece, I am being distracted by relentless coughing directly behind me. These students behind me certainly sound like they should be resting and attending classes online. Upon speaking with them after class, I learned that they have been sick for weeks but, they don’t want to risk compiling unexcused absences upon absences as a result.
If IE cares about the health and safety of its students, why is the online alternative unavailable to students who have a valid doctor’s note saying that they are sick, regardless of the extent of their illness? The university certainly has the necessary equipment and resources for high-quality online classes but is reluctant to utilize them.
Another major flaw in IE’s attendance policy is that it disincentivizes students from participating in extracurricular activities. IE promotes itself as a university with hundreds of clubs that are, quoting from the IE website, “ are instrumental to the IE experience. They are the engine to a unique and fun-filled time at IE.” IE fills up it social media pages praising its clubs and the unique extracurricular experiences that its student can have. Of course, this is true in any respect, however, I’m calling IE a hypocrite. An anonymous student is a committed member of IE’s Model United Nations Team. At the end of October, she has an opportunity to travel to Madrid to participate in a week-long MUN conference. Not only will her week in Madrid be filled with moments that are instrumental to the IE experience, but also with unexcused absences. IE refused to grant this student excused absences for going to an event with a club that is sponsored, promoted, and praised by IE University itself. This is not the only example and there are numerous instances of students being penalised for participating in extracurricular activities organised by the university itself.
One question: If a participating student’s week in Madrid is so instrumental to the IE experience, then why is she being punished for it?
IE must find a way to adjust its attendance policy. The new policy must strike a balance between:
1) Cracking down on laziness that many students acquired after doing almost two years of online classes.
2) Accommodating students who have a valid doctor’s note saying that they are sick.
3) Supporting students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities.
I’m calling on IE to “drive innovation” on their attendance policy.