What happened in the higher education sector in March 2020? (A newsletter aimed at Reps but potentially of interest to all students.)
Reps' Monthly Higher Education Update
This is a monthly update for our Reps on what’s going on in the Higher Education sector. In this edition, we look back at what happened in March 2020.
Coping with the coronavirus
Since the start of the year, the coronavirus has spread across the world, leading to widespread economic and social disruption. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, including the Prime Minister of the UK, have tested positive for the virus. The youngest person in the UK to die from the virus passed away at Coventry’s University Hospital, the Coventry Telegraph reported a few days ago.
Following advice from governments and public health bodies, universities across the UK and the rest of the continent have reduced their contact hours, moved their classes online or even closed altogether. Students in their final year of study have seen their exams moved online and graduation ceremonies postponed or cancelled.
Many trainee doctors and nurses have been called into action to help the National Health Service cope with the coronavirus. Student pharmacists’ registration assessments have been postponed, meaning that it is unlikely that they will graduate this year.
At Coventry University, classes have been moved online, field trips have been scrapped and graduation ceremonies have been put on hold. The Lanchester Library, the university gym and other facilities have also closed. Our big events on campus, such as our annual CUSU Awards Night, have sadly been cancelled.
Across all years of study, over the next few weeks and months, students will have a very different experience of education to that of previous academic terms. Many students are particularly concerned about how they will be assessed, how they can access the resources of the Lanchester Library, and what happens to their final grades if their assessments are cancelled.
In these strange circumstances, it is important that Reps continue to communicate with students on their courses to find out their thoughts. Our ways of gathering feedback and reporting it to academic staff may be a bit different, but the need for student representation remains as strong as before.
Reps should remain in contact with Senior Course Reps, who will pass on Reps’ feedback to members of academic staff. If you are a Rep and you need advice on how to represent students during this time, email your Rep Coordinator or write to us at email@example.com.
If you are a student and you have concerns about the coronavirus, please look at Coventry University’s information pages (here and, for international students, here) on the virus.
Crowded halls and inaccessible spaces
Lecture halls may be empty now, but earlier this year, students at Coventry University and elsewhere have reported that they have to put up with cramped lecture halls and inaccessible spaces during their studies.
History lecturers at the University of Bristol suggested to students in January that they should study in the SS Great Britain, a historic steamship sitting in a drydock. Exclusive access to the steamship and discounted refreshments have not made the students feel much better about a huge lack of study space at their university. A new library has been proposed, but it won’t be completed for another three years at least!
A lack of accessible space is a terrible problem for disabled students. Last month, at the University of Hull, Sarah, a zoology student in a wheelchair, said that she felt alienated after having no choice but to watch a lecture from the doorway at the top of the stairs of the lecture theatre. Speaking to the BBC this month, she said that there had been no change at Hull to accommodate her needs.
As Sarah said to the BBC, it’s important to include everyone in education. That’s why Students’ Unions across the UK have elected representatives to stand up for disabled students. However, academic representatives can do their bit.
CUSU’s Reps can help with the representation of all students when it comes to study space. If your lectures are cramped and crowded, if you are sent to a different room five minutes before your class is about to begin, or you are not able to make use of facilities and resources that are available to other students, tell your Reps! They can speak on your behalf to the right people at Coventry University and work to make campus accessible for all.
Does not compute!
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, most workers have been asked by the Government to work from home unless it is “absolutely necessary” to go to their usual workplace. Students at most universities have been told to avoid their campuses and lecturers will deliver their content over the Internet.
To continue their education, all students will need a computer. But what about students who don’t own one? In an email explaining its support for students during the coronavirus pandemic, the University of York recommended that, if students did not have access to a computer or laptop and could not get support from the university, they should consider suspending their studies and taking a leave of absence.
Or, as one student writer put it: “Don’t have a laptop? Drop out of uni.”
For several reasons, some students do not have laptops: they may not be able to afford them, they may have left theirs at home and, because of the Government’s restrictions on movement, are unable to go back to get them.
Contract cheating (again!)
As we enter assessment season again, students will receive more emails from people who offer to write or proofread essays for them, usually for a price. Now that so many assessments are in disarray thanks to the coronavirus, stressed students will be tempted to make use of these services.
However, as before, please be mindful of academic integrity. Even if their website looks professional and boasts lots of positive reviews, proofreaders and “essay mills” are inviting you to commit some form of academic misconduct.
This month, academics across UK universities voiced their anger at the lack of laws against contract cheating. Thomas Lancaster, one of the academics who coined the phrase “contract cheating,” told the Times Higher Education site that the UK is falling behind other Western countries in making things difficult for essay mills and fraudsters.
If you are a Rep and you are asked by your peers to advise them on essay-writing services, you should direct them to either the Centre for Academic Writing at Coventry University, which offers professional guidance on essay-writing skills in a way that respects academic integrity, or the Students’ Union Advice Centre, which can offer students confidential advice if they are in difficulty.
News in brief
Here are some items of news that you may have missed:
the CUSU election results have been announced: click here to find out your 2020-2021 Sabbatical Officers and the rest of the elected officer team
57% of voters at Durham University chose to Re-Open Nominations in its SU’s elections, its student newspaper reports, though these results were discounted in the results of a very controversial election period
a campus referendum at the University of Nottingham proposing that the position of President of the SU be abolished was roundly rejected this month. Students were angry to hear that one day later there was a discussion to remove the position in a democracy committee attended by only a handful of students. See what happened next here...
at the University of York, where some of the first cases of coronavirus were reported, alumni and donors are contributing to a new emergency fund to support students who are struggling with money as a consequence of the coronavirus
food banks are being set up at universities around the country to support students who cannot afford food while the coronavirus confines them to their university accommodation, the Guardian reports
students living in halls of residence at the University of Warwick have been permitted to leave their tenancies early if they expect that the coronavirus to keep them away from campus, student newspaper The Boar reports. Will other universities make similar offers?