The Covid-19 pandemic came as a surprise to many people, not more so than those in academia, both researchers and students.
With GCSEs cancelled, how are universities going to offer places to students? Some Universities have already begun to offer unconditional offers based on A-Level predicted grades. But is this really a fair way to assess someone and their many years of studying?
Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have been told to stop handing out unconditional offers based on predicted grades, to allow other smaller universities such as Oxford Brookes and University of Bristol to offer places on their courses — showing how much universities need the students to sustain financial viability.
At the University of The West of England where I study, all lectures came to a halt on March 18, leaving everyone across all cohorts of courses in limbo about their exams. It is a pretty straightforward process for first- and second-year students, but for third years who are about to graduate it is a much tougher scenario. With dissertation deadlines looming, how are these students, some of whom live many miles away from the university, meant to cope with all of the disruption around them? Then there are the questions about safety responses. Two social sciences courses went on a trip to Cardiff on March 5. Did this trip expose vulnerable students such as myself — those with certain disabilities and conditions — to unnecessary risk? Granted, our education establishments were observing government advice, which only later confirmed the seriousness of the situation.
Still, I feel that the decision-making on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor at UWE, Steve West, has been inconsistent right from the start. The virus was known from the beginning of March, and though students with underlying health conditions were informed that they didn’t have to come in for classes, many lecturers still insisted on attendance. Students needing reasonable adjustments so far have been the most disadvantaged at UWE. There are no exceptions to the deadlines (usually, when personal circumstances are applicable students can get up to a five-day extension). And what about the 25 per cent extra time offered during exams? With the absence of these reasonable adjustments, how are disabled students meant to cope if no alternatives have been given? Presently, nothing has been communicated on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor about those with reasonable adjustments.
The issue is that questions have been asked, but have not been answered sufficiently given that exam season is just around the corner for many of us.
Since the last update in March, there has been a lack of correspondence from the Vice-Chancellor at UWE, despite him promising regular updates. With updates being left to the departmental staff to communicate at their discretion to students, some have been coming in weekly and others daily. The disarray has been caused by a lack of information provided to students and staff alike on what the need to do.
On the Politics and International Relations course, the programme leadership team is attempting to help as many as 250 students navigate their way through this unprecedented time in academics. All the students do have access to their academic personal tutors, but it is the programme leadership team who are to thank for this. They are aware that many students have reasonable adjustments and are doing their best. Still, this doesn’t fully resolve the situation or fill with confidence those with adjustments that their needs will be met. Some may decide to do the set assessments, and others might take the option given to everyone to sit a resit assessment in the summer. This could lead to a number of issues for those choosing assessment in the resit period. If some fail, then there is the potential that they may have to repeat a year, as only one resit is currently allowed. And if they pass, there is the pressure of not having enough time to prepare for the second-year modules that are meant to start in September — both optional and core.
Since UWE has suspended teaching, and teaching has moved online for the majority of courses for the remainder of the academic year, the Vice-Chancellor has announced that laboratories, accommodation and training facilities at Glenside campus, which specialises in the health courses, will be used to train and house those who will be working at The Bristol Nightingale hospital which is situated at The Exhibition and Conference centre, which is a part of the Frenchay Campus. This in itself poses a number of challenges. There are still some students, such as those from abroad, living on campus. It has been stated that staff and students will be kept separated, but is this realistic? All of the halls are very close together, and it has not been specified whether a single block, or all of the blocks will be used to house medical staff at the university.
We have tried reaching the Vice-Chancellor by email to get a comment on the current situation at UWE and when the university is likely to reopen. The uncertainty and silence is making students, and the academics teaching them extremely anxious, mainly because the academic are as much in the dark as the students. It has been like this for about four weeks now and it is likely to continue for an unspecified length of time, with the the September 21 semester start date hanging in a precarious balance.