Reflections on an Autumn Term of un-blended learning
By Nathan Collins-Cope
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
Content warning: mentions of suicide.
Image courtesy of bantersnaps on Unsplash
Around the country, schools and sixth forms have enjoyed a fairly uninterrupted Autumn term. Except for those that have had to close due to Covid cases. For students in higher education, however, in-person lectures and seminars for most subjects were wholly withdrawn from the outset. What makes matters worse is the fact that certain departments, at the University of Kent, are reusing lecture recordings from last year, instead of recording fresh ones. This begs the question: why are we paying £9250 for what is essentially a second-rate streaming service, while compulsory education goes ahead unimpeded? We are paying for the service out of our own pockets after all, where the school system is paid by the state.
Research shows that a personal touch (or a socially distanced touch in this case) is vital in learning, not to mention the aid of peer interaction. This issue is further amplified when one realises the knock-on effect this is causing to many students’ mental health. Since term began, the UK has seen at least one university student commit suicide every week. The seriousness of this cannot be neglected, as students everywhere are losing their quality of life. This is not helped by waiting lists for mental health services being completely closed, with UKC students being redirected to online messenger therapies, with a touch of cruel irony; as if we need more remote services to treat the problems created by a lack of personal interaction.
The term ‘blended learning’ keeps being thrown around on announcements from the university, yet the content of these educational smoothies seem to consist of mostly filler ingredients, like audio-less lectures and other aforementioned examples. In the meantime, schools can give engaging and in-person teaching, rather than this bland, mind-detaching educational experience we are being forced to swallow. The administration of the university has known about Coronavirus since February of this year, yet this is somehow the best they can do.
Cuts to services like the library seem to be in fashion, Templeman library operating for only 14 hours a day this term. This change reduces access to a vital resource for already struggling students. We can only assume the library closes earlier now to save the university some money, it’s hard to fathom how closing the library for the night protects anyone from Covid-19. I am not privy to the finances of the university, but I can make a safe bet that the administration isn’t taking any pay cuts. While universities take with one hand, they beg with the other.
Across the country, higher education facilities called for the government to prop them up in this time of great need. This was rejected, in favour of charging student’s full tuition, on the condition that “high standards” are maintained. If cutting library hours and reusing old teaching clips are the best the uni has to offer, I would dread to see it functioning at a reduced capacity.
Why are we picking up the bill for a struggling education system?
It is obvious university finds itself in a difficult situation financially: UKC has a debt of over £60 million before counter-pandemic measures were introduced. We are not ungrateful for the investments the university has made in shiny new buildings, but I think I speak for most when I say that I would certainly prefer to see the TEF Gold teaching we were promised be delivered.
A recent University Announcements email about Covid-19 testing before “face-to-face teaching starting in the Spring term”, it’s likely we’ll still be relying mostly on Notflix University streaming for the foreseeable future. Even with multiple vaccines on the horizon, we cannot presume that a return to normal will be seen anytime soon. The UK has only received 800,000 vaccines, of the initial 5 million purchased from Pfizer/BioNTech. This is likely to be the first and last amount we will see for several months, due to the companies overpromising and underdelivering.
Teaching timetables have just been released, way ahead of the beginning of Spring term, indicating that it’s unlikely we’ll get any more face-to-face sessions other than those already allotted to us (some students have no in-person sessions at all!). Given that we have just gone through a national lockdown and that the increasing availability of vaccines is likely to make in-person teaching safer, this feels like a huge blow.
Given how disrupted and sub-par the Autumn term was for many students and how unpromising the Spring term already looks, we need to start putting pressure on Kent Union and the university to partially reimburse tuition fees.