Following on from my previous updates on 6th January and the 8th January, I wanted to make you aware of the results of the discussions at UTLQC (University Teaching, Learning and Quality Committee) on Tuesday 12th and with the Vice-Chancellor on Wednesday 13th January.
Thank you to everyone who emailed me your feedback and who voted in the poll, this helped me raise the following points at these meetings.
- Firstly, I clarified that when students are asking for a safety net is something to fall back on if their grades drop due to the circumstances such as only taking their best 60 credits, and automatic Extenuating Circumstances (EC’s).
- I then fed back the results of the poll on the UPSU website, acknowledging that while the question was broad it showed that students felt they need and wanted additional support. Of the 4545 students who completed the poll 98.5% (or 4478 students) answered “yes” to the question “should the Uni reinstate the safety net introduced in the first lockdown?”
- Finally, I raised the reasons for wanting a safety net– examples include, but aren’t restricted to - parents with children at home, home issues, general learning environment, COVID-related issues and bereavement. The biggest effect is the impact on mental health with students coming to us at a crisis point. There are also students who are struggling to defer at this point in the year due to finance and struggles.
Response from the UTLQC:
The committee acknowledged that this year has been tough for students and they are concerned about student’s wellbeing, they empathise with the struggles that students are facing as many of the staff are also facing them. It was noted that we are starting to see chronic issues with hardware and WIFI which can affect students’ ability to access learning and the committee hopes that the new hardship fund will be a start to addressing students struggles with WIFI, hardware and rent (read the VC's statement from 13th January, emailed to all students, here) being launched should address students' struggles with WIFI, hardware and rent etc.
Work has now been done to inform students of what support was implemented in last year’s Safety Net is still available (an update was sent to all students on 12th January, view it here) and the Extenuating Circumstances page (which you can view here) has been updated to include issues caused by COVID such as illness, WIFI troubles, childcare etc. Students should also know that most claims are being accepted at the moment however there is a delay so please don’t worry if you don’t hear back immediately.
The committee agrees that what we have in place currently is not enough due to the current circumstances and they are now looking into what we can implement to further support students without devaluing their degree.
The UTLQC acknowledged that students would like something similar to the 'best of 60' approach which was implemented last year, however, they are concerned that this would devalue the degrees, as it would mean final year students would potentially graduate with a degree based on 120 credits which would damage the quality of the degree and risk some employers or universities not accepting them in the future. They also need to achieve a standard of quality expected by the Government and PSRBS.
Finally, I think it’s important for me to say that the committee was really understanding and empathetic to the challenges students are currently facing. They all do want what’s best for the students and will look forward to revisiting the safety net but with a view of quality and standards. Even if ‘best of’ isn’t the right approach, they will be looking into suitable alternatives.
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Plymouth, Judith Petts’ response:
The Vice-Chancellor stated that the University adapted their programmes to a blended learning model to account for the change in learning and adopted most of the key elements from last year’s Safety Net into emergency regulations for 20/21 to help support students due to the changing circumstances.
She recommends that if students need more support or are struggling that they go to their Personal Tutors and if they do not receive a response then to contact their School office.
If students are not in suitable working environments at their term-time address, for example, there are multiple individuals working in the one space, or there isn’t sufficient WIFI then the Vice-Chancellor advised that they are allowed to return under the Government’s recent guidance (view the latest Government guidance here).
Finally, she noted that work is now being done to move any practical and lab sessions which were scheduled during lockdown later in the year.
My message to students
This is not the end. Just because the University hasn’t implemented anything at this point, doesn’t mean they still won’t. I will be working with the University to continue to convey the student voice in future meetings and ensure you get the extra support you need.
What can you do?
- Be understanding. I received a lot of feedback criticizing lecturers and university staff members for being off at Christmas. While I understand students frustration at not being able to get in touch with them during your assessment periods It is important to be mindful that many of these lecturers have not had a proper break since last Christmas due to covid, and for them to be effective in their teaching and their support of you they do need to rest and take time off. They are not the ones making these decisions and are also experiencing the same pandemic as you are so please give them some grace.
- Be specific. As you are now aware many aspects of the safety net were kept for this years regulations. I recommend that if you want to communicate with the University that further measures need to be implemented then be specific with your requests. For example, instead of saying we want a safety net, say we want more support for dissertation students, or we want a way to prevent our grades from falling due to the pandemic. The more specific you are the easier it will be to get your point across.
- Be patient. I know the stress and anxiety that you are all facing at the minute but I do need to ask you for your patience at this time. I am still working with the University and will keep you updated as much as possible, but there may not be a quick fix.
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