Snow chaos cancelled slews of exams at short notice: AU responds with decision to draft contingency plan

Aarhus University doesn’t currently have a contingency plan for conducting exams when normal operations are disrupted – by unusually bad weather, for example. But that will change, in response to the blizzard in early January that resulted in slews of postponed exams and frustrated students.

Photo: Jesper Rais/AU Communication

The massive snowfall that ushered i 2024 resulted in the cancellation of up to 4,000 students' exams: in the first week of the year, AU cancelled virtually all exams on Wednesday and Thursday, before resuming exams again on Friday.

Student Mads Villadsen, whose exam was cancelled and postponed an hour and a half before it was scheduled to begin, was disappointed with how AU handled the situation, he told Omnibus. And he wasn't the only one. On AU's Facebook profile, many students expressed frustration and confusion about AU’s handling of the situation.

"I hope you will consider setting some guidelines for cancelling exams for use in the future –  cancelling one exam too many would be better than keep students in the dark. Today was not a good experience,” one student wrote on AU’s Facebook profile, after their exam was also cancelled and hour and a half before it was scheduled to start.

Aarhus University acknowledges that exam cancellation in emergencies needs to be better prepared in the future, and the university is going to draft a contingency plan soon, the head of AU Student Administration and Services, Anna Bak Maigaard assured me:

"This has certainly given us reason to adjust and prepare a formalized contingency plan for the rare situations like this, where we have to cancel exams. Because of course this has drawn our attention to the fact that we – fortunately – have had very little practice in cancelling exams. Even during Covid, we typically rescheduled exams – we didn't cancel them."

"That’s why we have not had a specific procedure or protocol that we could activate, and that’s something we need to have. There’s no doubt about that. We need to have a contingency plan, just like we have when systems are down. We’ll start developing one very soon, while this is still fresh in our minds,” Maigaard said.

Majgaard isn’t yet in a position to reveal any details about what the contingency plan will look like. But in general, it will cover how decisions are made and how they are communicated:

"Who has a decision-making mandate on how we communicate, how we involve people and when we announce cancellations?"  Maigaard explained.


Some students were frustrated and confused by the fact that the exams scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday were cancelled due to the heavy snowfall, while the exams on Friday proceeded as planned, even though the roads were still covered with snow and public transport in Aarhus was completely paralyzed.

AU had announced to students on Wednesday afternoon that exams would be held on Thursday, but because the police issued a no-travel advisory Thursday morning urging everyone in East Jutland to stay off the roads, the university backtracked and announced by email at around 7-7:30 AM that Thursday’s exams would be cancelled after all. But on Friday, the wording of the police travel advisory was slightly different. Now the police were not urging everyone to stay off the roads – they were urging everyone to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary. And so exams proceeded as scheduled on Friday.

"I understand it’s confusing, because it's not a language we're used to. What does it mean when it’s a ‘no-travel’ advisory, and what does all unnecessary travel’ actually mean? So we’ve also been in contact with the police. And when they put out a no-travel advisory, it’s much stricter than a no unnecessary travel advisory. So actually, there was a relatively big difference between the two advisories, even though the words are almost the same," says Anna Bak Maigaard.


Some students have expressed a desire for hard-and-fast guidelines for the future that would make it possible for them to be informed well in advance whether their exams will be cancelled in the event of an emergency – like a snowstorm. But there are no plans to draft such a specific protocol, said Maigaard; however, she added, all suggestions will be taken into consideration.

"A contingency plan is a more of a generic plan, you see – it’s not just about advisories about snow and travel. The plan has to cover how we as an institution handle situations in which we are forced to cancel exams – regardless of the reason," Maigaard said.

When asked what exactly went wrong and what needs to be corrected, she agreed that the situation had been bad. But she also said that she wasn’t going to discuss the specifics further until after an evaluation has been carried out.

"I’m satisfied with how we acted relatively quickly in a difficult situation with many people involved. But of course, there is always something you can improve in this kind of situation," she said.


The 4,000 or so students affected by the exam cancellations have all been informed when their postponed exams will take place. The last ones were notified on Tuesday January 9. For most of these students, the exams will be held before the end of week 3.

The administrative staff has worked intensively to plan the exams in a short period of time. Normally, this work would take weeks and months, Maigaard explained:

"I really understand that it is deeply frustrating for students to have an exam cancelled. And that it is really inconvenient not knowing exactly when it will be rescheduled. But the weather was to blame, and there was no alternative that we could see. In that situation, we cancelled the exams as quickly as we could and communicated as quickly as we could," Maigaard said:

"We have rescheduled the exams at almost lightning speed. This kind of planning normally takes us weeks and months. Of course, this is not the same as saying that waiting for an answer was pleasant for the students. I can only say that it’s been done as fast as possible, and I am enormously grateful for the huge effort the administrative staff and lecturers have put into this, and the patience the students have shown," the deputy director concluded.

Translated by Lenore Messick.