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Students stranded after ProctorU crash

Sydney University faces another exam setback. Additional reporting by Deaundre Espejo.

ProctorU experienced regional internet outages this evening, leaving students locked out and unable to complete their assessments on the penultimate day of an already-delayed examination period. 

Seven exam sessions at 5:00pm were halted by connection failures. Honi understands that BUSS1002, ECMT1020 and ECMT 2160 were among the subjects affected. University management were unable to confirm the cause of the outages and the total number of students impacted.

While some students were able to reconnect and given extra time to complete their examinations, other students were either disconnected or unable to connect at all. 

Students unable to complete their examination received an automated message from ProctorU’s assistance service which read: “We are experiencing higher than normal wait times. We apologize for the inconvenience.” ProctorU offered no further assistance. 

One student told Honi that “apart from ambiguous error messages, the only guidance given was to contact ProctorU Help, which didn’t work due to an unavailability of representatives.” 

Some academic staff advised students to “just put it out of your mind until Monday. There’s nothing we can do about this right now, so you might as well forget about it and relax for the weekend.” 

According to one student, “even with the smoothest possible ProctorU connection process, the stress of exam preparation is taken to another level…The prospect of failing an entire unit of study due to not being able to mitigate the ever-confusing ProctorU process seemed like a very real possibility.”

Affected students have been instructed to follow special consideration procedures. However, they are yet to be advised whether they will be able to sit replacement exams next week, or will have to wait until the official replacement exam period in mid-January.

The use of ProctorU under current health settings has been questioned by staff and students. There are presently no COVID-19 restrictions in NSW which prevent in-person exams from taking place. 

One member of academic staff whose course was impacted by ProctorU’s failure told Honi that “it would be sensible to allow students located in Australia to take invigilated exams on campus just as they did in prior years.”

In a statement to Honi, SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu reaffirmed his organisation’s opposition to ProctorU: “Outages of this nature reaffirm our belief that ProctorU is neither reliable nor efficient, and we believe that other forms of assessment are always preferable to proctored exams.”

“Outages of this nature,” says Sanagavarapu, “are also symptomatic of the broader issues with ProctorU, which include systematic violations of student privacy, the stress that students are put under and the general vulnerability of the software to breaches and outages. We call on the university to abandon ProctorU for assessments in 2021”

In May, the SRC called on the University not to engage ProctorU, citing privacy and security concerns. In August, hackers published 440,000 ProctorU user records, including those of Sydney University staff. 

ProctorU’s privacy policy acknowledges that it may sell users’ personal data without their consent in the event of a “bankruptcy, merger, acquisition, reorganisation, or sale of assets.” This data includes names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as video recordings of exams.  

In a statement made the following morning, the University said: “We are currently considering our future approach to examinations in general and the use of online examinations and online proctoring.”

“In doing so, we will be mindful of the wellbeing and experience of both students and staff and the need for advance clarity on assessment arrangements, as well as the changing external circumstances, including border closures and the possibility of further COVID outbreaks.” 

ProctorU was contacted for comment but failed to reply before publication. This article will be updated as comment is received.

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