Poll shows majority of Kent students believe teaching experience not "value for money"

By Daniel Esson

Kent Union have released the results so far of their ongoing survey of students’ thoughts on online teaching.

Only 28% of the over 400 respondents agreed with the statement “I am satisfied with the quality of my online teaching experience so far this term”, with 42% disagreeing. Furthermore, 52% disagree with the statement that the academic experience so far “is meeting the expectations set out by the University at the start of term” and 81% disagree that “the teaching and learning experience that I am currently receiving is value for money”.

This stemmed from conversations with students at the University of Kent. Kieron Robinson, a second year Politics student said: “it doesn’t feel like university, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing a degree and it’s playing on my mind.

“I think the lecturers and seminar leaders are doing their best with the resources being provided to them, but some support and tech lessons should be supplied to them to make it easier to teach students."

He added: “I don’t believe it’s good value for money” and that it “feels like I’m paying for an online degree."

A third year politics student from the EU, who preferred to remain anonymous, had something similar to say. “Paying £9250 to have, in my case, eight hours of in-person teaching for the whole term, is unjustifiable and doesn’t deserve to be called ‘blended learning’”. She agreed that the quality of education has been damaged by online learning.

“They try to tell us that online learning is worth just as much money as in-person, that the quality is the same, but internet connection fails, the platforms we use for our classes do not always work properly, it is difficult to participate in seminars, and assignments have not been adapted to the situation – we still have to do group presentations."

She also spoke about problems unique to international students. “Especially for those of us living outside the UK, before having the timetable we were told it was necessary for us to come to university.

"That meant spending lots of money on accommodation and travelling arrangements, to then have almost no in-person classes to attend. It feels like the university lied to us."

InQuire contacted Kent Union to understand their views on the matter. They said that they are “considering all the feedback being collected from students” and that they will pass “relevant comments on to Student Reps and academic schools."

They also said: “Vice-President Academic Experience, Vicky Saward-Read, has been liaising with senior University staff to discuss what best practice can be taken from student feedback as well as highlighting areas of concern."

They added that they had been collating a list of student feedback and recommendations regarding online learning, which has recently been released online.

When asked if Kent Union would explicitly push for more face-to-face teaching in light of the fact that students seem to feel that online teaching is not of good quality and not good value for money, they responded: “Not at this time, though of course we understand our students’ desire to have more face-to-face teaching going forward.

"Our priorities are to work within government guidance and COVID restrictions, keeping students safe and healthy, and therefore to ensure the quality of provision of online teaching and learning is improved for all students."

They also said that they would continue to collect feedback from students in order to work on improving student satisfaction going forward, and that “we shall also be using any feedback from students to consider next steps, including informing any discussions about the potential lobbying of the University regarding tuition fee refunds/reductions."

Dr. Philip Cunliffe, Senior Lecturer in International Conflict in the School of Politics and International Relations, who has written before about the necessity of face-to-face teaching, said that “education is about much more than value for money – it’s about rapport and cultivating social relationships as well as transferring knowledge.

"This is why face-to-face teaching is so important."

In relation to the results of the survey he said: “although I am disappointed I’m not surprised by the results of this survey. I think this underscores how important face-to-face teaching is for a campus university like Kent.

"I am glad that the University has tried to maintain face-to-face teaching in these difficult circumstances. I hope my union (UCU) and the NUS will take heed of the strength of student feeling on this matter."

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) is a key player in the discussion around face-to-face versus digital learning during the pandemic. Jo Grady, General Secretary of the UCU has repeatedly stated her view that universities should move entirely online during the pandemic.

Furthermore, the UCU branch at UKC on November 11th members voted overwhelmingly for a motion which resolved that “all non-essential in-person teaching should move online at the University of Kent."

InQuire contacted the UCU branch at UKC and they responded “we are all looking forward to resuming regular face-to-face teaching”.

Regarding the motion they passed at their branch meeting they said the motion was devised in early November “in response to increased worries raised by our members about the rising rates of coronavirus infection across the country."

They added: "Please note that such motions are not binding on our members, and in this instance, we also acknowledged that some face-to-face teaching might be deemed ‘essential’” and that “this could continue at the discretion of module convenors.

“we are particularly concerned to support staff who, due to their more precarious contractual situations, are reporting that they feel pressured against their will to provide face to face teaching."

The newly instituted “student travel window” means that at Kent “most teaching will be moved online by December 4th. In this respect, it appears that national policy is in-line with some of the spirit and intentions of our motion”.

On a resume to face-to-face teaching they said “we will continue to review the situation, and we look forward to resuming as much face-to-face teaching as it is safe to do so in the New Year."

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