Pandemic forces uni student’s contact hours down from 28 to 1.5 a week

And yet the Russell Group says that safety net policies aren’t ‘necessary’ this year


A university student has criticised the Russell Group’s stance on safety nets after her contact hours went from 28 hours a week last academic year to just 1.5 hours a week this term.

Abbie Tweedle, who is a second year biosciences student at the University of Reading, recently compared her first-year timetable to her second year one and was met with a “stark” difference.

She told The Tab: “I suppose I’ve just noticed it because I was used to being an active student pretty much 9-5 every day last year, and for all of the last term, I was lucky to have an hour of contact a week.

“It’s frustrating because the majority of lecturers and students seem to be working even harder than before, but the quality of learning just can’t be matched.”

Abbie’s contact hours last year (left) and this year (right)

Last year, Abbie’s timetable was full of tutorials, lectures and practicals. This year it is sparse, and with lockdown this term, even her remaining practicals have been cancelled.

Abbie was inspired to compare the two timetables after the Russell Group released a statement last week, saying that no detriment policies aren’t “necessary” this year.

The group, which represents 24 universities, said the decision was taken because it has a duty to protect “academic standards” and to uphold the “integrity” of Russell Group university degrees.

The Russell Group doesn’t include Reading, Abbie’s uni, but she felt compelled to argue against its stance as she believes safety nets should be available for all unis.

“They were available for students in the same position last year so I don’t see why we are being denied them. Last year, under time pressure, my university introduced the CIP (circumstances impact process) so students in second and third year wouldn’t have their grades impacted by factors out of their control (i.e the ongoing pandemic).

“This year, this has been returned to the standard extenuating circumstances system, where extensions can be granted to students where they can provide evidence that they are experiencing extreme personal circumstances that can impact their studies. This doesn’t seem reasonable this year as everyone’s circumstances are exceptional.”

Abbie also feels that university fees should be lowered, because this year is “not the same experience” as the one she agreed to pay £9,000 for.

“If the open university can offer online degrees for £3,000 a year, I don’t see how the £9,250 can be justified by these universities,” she told The Tab.

“I was happy to enrol in my degree in 2019 knowing the expenses but now we are unable to have lecturer interactions, meet other students, participate in practical and seminars and access the technology that our universities offer, it’s simply not the same experience and shouldn’t, therefore, bear the same costs.”

A spokesman for the University of Reading said: “It is difficult to draw conclusions about teaching quality from two snapshots of a weekly timetable from two different years of study. Across a three or four year degree course, some weeks have more timetabled sessions than others.

“Due to the current lockdown, some practical classes have had to be been rescheduled to later in the term. Students are also expected to participate in recorded online lectures and classes, as well as independent study. These are not timetabled and can be completed whenever a student chooses.

“We are sympathetic to students whose experience of University life right now may not be what they anticipated a year ago. While sessions have been moved online for the time being students are still receiving high-quality teaching and access to a full range of study, welfare and support services and materials.

“Reading students have shown remarkable resilience and strength of spirit in difficult circumstances. We are proud of how they have continued to focus on their studies while helping each other, with many also volunteering in the NHS or using their skills to help charities and community groups, for example.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

New year, new garms: The best Looks in Lockdown this week

BREAKING: Newcastle University to give students safety net for this year

Salford Uni offers students £1,000 in rent rebate even if they have a private landlord