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Students sign open letter about university "safety net"

A group of final year students, led by course representatives, are calling on the university to do more to protect students

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Image Credit: John Husband

In response to the news that the University is instituting a ‘Safety net’ for students, more details of which can be found here, a group of Final year students have written an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, urging the University to go further with its protections for students and their educational outcomes.

In the letter, the University is criticised for the lack of any fundamental changes to policies, stating that the changes made make “little to no difference” to students with upcoming assessments scheduled in January. The letter is also critical of the lack of considerations put in place for the subsequent wellbeing of the Final year cohort, all of whom will be graduating in five short months despite the Pandemic.

The Letter proceeds to state that measures such as removing the evidentiary requirements on Exceptional Circumstance claims are too late in their appearance, with many summative assessments due around the 11th of January, and examinations starting that same week, many students had already placed their exceptional circumstance claims and had them denied due to the evidentiary requirement.

Furthermore, the letter criticises the vagueness of language used in the ‘safety net’ statement, asking for clarification of what, “Adapting our approach to delivering teaching, learning and assessments online" means in specifics and how it will impact students and their learning outcomes.

Likewise, the Letter criticises the University’s pledge to offer re-weighting of degree programmes for second and third years as it will not be as effective a safeguard of students’ grades as an individual safety net score, similar to the one put in place in the final term of the past academic year, would be.

The letter concludes by mentioning the hard work done by Course Representatives to achieve any form of ‘safety net’ at all, and condemns the University for offering the minimum amount of support given the fact that Third and Final year students have paid, £27,750, or more for 4th-year students, each over the course of their degree programs.

Darcey Page, Politics Undergraduate Representative and author of the open letter gave her comments on the situation to Nouse:

“There are 12 course reps under me that all worked on this safety net! We have been calling for it during department meetings and with YUSU since September. We want an individual safety net for third years as a minimum. The terms already stated do nothing to help students and do not take into account that these lockdowns have been managed completely differently. A safety net is really the only option.”

Page’s comments on the situation continued when asked to give her opinion on how the University has managed the situation regarding Covid-19. She gave praise to certain university institutions, which have been operating despite the testing conditions of the Pandemic and held criticisms for University and departmental administrations for failing to live up to those same standards. She said  “My personal feelings are that we don’t deserve any of this. It’s not enough to email us with watered-down jargon about ‘adapting approaches’ and doing everything they can. The pandemic wasn’t over in September 2020 and they knew that students would be impacted so they should’ve acted sooner.” She went on to state that she believes “that facilities like the Library have been mostly effective and that individual departments have really struggled with managing what they want for students and also being at the whim of the University’s poor leadership. I think that it sets a precedent that the University needs to rework their policy on how they handle extreme situations like these. They’ve had a year now to assess Covid and what it means for teaching and this is not an effective response to the ongoing issues.”

The university replied to questions from Nouse regarding the “safety net” and its ability to protect students by saying:
"We recognise that the disruption caused by the pandemic may affect performance and cause additional anxieties about assessments. We know many students have been asking if we can offer a similar ‘safety net’ to last year, but this relied on results from assessments and this information does not exist for most students for the 2020-21 academic year, so we are not able to replicate this. We've worked hard with our student representatives to put in place a series of other measures, which uphold the integrity of our degrees and which provide alternative support for assessments and progression, so students receive an award that reflects their highest achievements. We provide further guidance on our Covid website which explains the measures in more detail."

They proceeded to say that they “Welcome dialogue and feedback from students” and would endeavour to respond to any open letters they received about any subject.

Finally, when asked by Nouse whether the renewed lockdown measures would make the university consider certain financial compensation to those students who feel the pandemic has negatively impacted their education the University had this to say:

"The global pandemic has forced us to make changes to the ways we deliver our teaching and learning, and student support. However, we have maintained our investment and commitment to our students to keep their health, wellbeing and learning potential at the heart of everything we do. We appreciate this has not been easy for our students and we have put in place a number of support measures, including the University’s Emergency Student Support Fund and providing rent credits for eligible students.

"We continue to listen to our students and the feedback we receive enables us to identify where we need to maintain support and where we may need to increase our efforts and invest in further levels of support.

"We appreciate the financial pressures and hardships that some of our students are facing and together with our student unions and in partnership with the Russell Group of universities, we are continuing to lobby the UK Government for additional support for students.

The Open Letter can be found, and signed, by the following link below:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1kK_Q8lAlBjg4CNT_evjiDrXXSRBMF9u1b_Py6qb5mSY/viewform?fbclid=IwAR3FnH4lEItWqRqTuU-UHLicxZIds5PwXt3_c9-TFHosfS39OMKQ7a3gct0&edit_requested=true

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