“Quo usque tandem abutere, EPSO, patientia nostra?
Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet?
Quem ad fīnem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?” *
On Monday 16 October, overwhelmed by criticism of the malfunctions observed, EPSO has been forced to announce that it would be re-evaluating automated surveillance “to improve” the experience of candidates calling “for a temporary time-out”, hitting “the pause button until the end of the year as regards the publication of open competitions”.
Thus, some competitions would no longer be published in 2023, but postponed until further notice, namely the competitions for Administrators-Generalists, for statistics and data, for Macroeconomic Statistics and for financial management, accounting and treasury, and public procurement.
Of course, EPSO is still confirming that “This does not mean that EPSO will give up online testing and its many advantages” (link).
What remains a mystery that EPSO obviously does not bother to explain is why some competitions will go ahead, even though EPSO is admitting that this system is not functioning, while some others are postponed. We do not want to believe that this is because EPSO would not have borne the shame of further competition cancellations and the responsibility for further waste of public money.
EPSO, again, MUST explain justify and be fully accountable for all its decisions
How did EPSO “manage” to get to this point?
Since months, all sections of R&D federal have been submerged by the hundreds of complaints regarding the “remote testing” that EPSO has set up that has turned into a real suffering for candidates.
As always, R&D is working to ensure the greatest possible unity of action between staff representatives
As soon as the first complaints were received, given the sensitivity of the issue and the importance of what was at stake, R&D decided to coordinate with all the Trade Unions as a Common Front ( link ), in collaboration with the Central Staff Committee ( Ares (2022)8710389 )and to support candidates in their complaints to the European Ombudsman.
EPSO, always committed to its strategy of denying everything that can still be denied and of trivializing what has become impossible to deny, it has half-heartedly admitted that its system is not working well, but is drowning out the problem with “scam alerts” ( link )
Either EPSO politely tells candidates to expect delays in processing our requests ( link ) or EPSO responds quickly …without offering any solutions.
Still, in the last few weeks, a number of candidates have complained about both the Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ) and the Case Studies.
To give you a flavour of what the candidates have to come across, hereafter are a few examples of the complaints made by candidates about IT malfunctions during the competitions held in the last weeks:
Exam ended after trying to access the platform through the ProMetric App and contacting the online support for hours, The computer-based Multiple-Choice question (MCQ) Numerical Reasoning:
[Scratchpad was not properly presented to candidates (lack of instructions on how to use it and features such as Zooming or resizing, misleading information when encouraging candidates to familiarise themselves with the test platform, the tool covered the text of the questions and worked with difficulty).
White Screen and Freezing or partial visibility of the screen…During the Exam, this affected candidates’ concentration and the overall quality of their presentation..
… Disconnection for several minutes out of the total time allotted to candidates for the MCQ.]
“Natural Silliness” vs Artificial Intelligence?
It was around this time last year that EPSO introduced us the figure of “proctor”, that is the invigilator working for the external contractor, and who became the worst nightmare for all candidates! The latter had to undergo the shameless controls and requests by the proctors, asking them to show even part of their bodies, they had to suffer the continuous terror that they would be disqualified if things were not to the proctors’ satisfaction, and, what is even worse is that not even candidates with disabilities were given a less harsh time. All this under the continuous approval of EPSO that was considering that these anti-cheating procedures “actually correspond to industry standards – they are routinely applied on remote testing platforms throughout Europe and beyond” (Ares(2023)356282). The hundreds of complaints and the huge number of acceptances to retest were not enough to change EPSO’s mind.
Today though the Proctors seem to belong to the past, substituted by the powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI). But, has the situation really improved?
Probably not, if we judge by the need of EPSO to take a break and reassess the whole system and by some of the testimonials we have received. Currently, if a candidate does not stand in a certain position in front of the computer or if he/she move too much, the ultra-potent AI tool will understand what is happening and display a message of “suspicious behaviour” at the bottom of the screen. Moreover, some candidates were kicked out in the middle of the test, or at some point during the login and were told that they could no longer take the test, but that there was also an online form set up to report this type of situations. Case: https://eu-careers.europa.eu/en/contact-us/question.
This series of unacceptable shortcomings happening during an EPSO competition top up to the already accumulated stress definitely do not provide candidates with the necessary conditions in order to make them perform at their best, which should be the objective of EPSO, that is to select the best candidates in the given field and not necessarily the most resilient to a humiliating invigilation system, or to an unfriendly examinations environment!
Let us also not forget that this umpteenth new disaster, which further destroys the image of our institutions in the eyes of candidates and citizens alike, comes on the heels of another disaster, namely the cancellation of the competition EPSO/AST/154/22, with very heavy financial consequences, following the strong criticism from the Ombudsman to whom several candidates, supported by the Common Front of trade unions, had addressed their complaints.
Are we living a comedy written by Monty Python?
All without ever drawing any conclusions regarding responsibilities and with the blameworthy collusion of the institutions responsible for the successful running of this office. The same institutions always preaching a policy of attractiveness that succeeds perfectly in doing exactly the opposite: frustrated, embarrassed, disappointed, and overall discouraged candidates, forced into situations straight out of a Monty Python comedy!
Yes, in the end and very late, with the EPSO’s decision of 16 October reason starts slowly to prevail …but just a bit…nowhere near enough!
EPSO fully deserves to become …“a case study”
Before EPSO came up with a “new proposal”, just as unsuccessful as all the previous ones and in order to help this office to finally fulfil its responsibilities, in keeping with its constructive approach, R&D suggests that the EU administrations make use of EPSO to carry out a “case study” on the “worst practices” of the whole civil administration.
It will be a matter of verifying the extent to which :
– the basic principle of accountability has been taken into account and,
– EPSO’s attitude of simply rejecting any criticism, whether from candidates or staff representatives, until such point as it becomes truly impossible to continue denying them, with a patronising and contemptuous attitude, is compatible with the principle of a well-managed administration, with the values on which our civil service is based and with the RESPECT that any candidate is entitled to expect.
We’re not going to leave it at that… by obediently waiting for EPSO to come up with a new, flawed solution without completely revising its project, which is now among the worst failures of our public service!
R&D, while confirming its full commitment to united action by all Trade Unions and Staff Committees, calls for:
– New governance be established for EPSO in order to clearly establish the responsibilities of each player ensuring that there is always a pilot on board;
– Staff representatives from all the institutions be fully involved in the in-depth reassessment of the selection process by convening a social dialogue meeting without delay.
* When, EPSO, do you mean to cease abusing our patience?
How long is that madness of yours still to mock us?
When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?