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‘Guilt-tripped’: English students react to lecturer’s email

“Not all English students are lazy.”

Earlier this week, the University of Birmingham’s undergraduate English students were called out in an email from their Head of Department, with over 400 second years having failed to attend a lecture on ‘Assessment and Marking Criteria’. However, students are expressing their anger surrounding the way the situation has been handled, citing it as "poorly executed", "badly organised" and "an absolute joke".

A student stated that the department "didn’t do all they could to let students know it was occurring." With no Canvas notifications, no follow-up emails, no tutors mentioning it in the seminars or lectures the previous week, and with the lecture not appearing on their timetables, many students feel that they've missed out, and resent the fact that the email seems to be guilt-tripping them.

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The (empty) reading week timetable of a second year English Literature student.

Some second year students have also pointed out that the original email was sent the day before their first set of assignments were due, and have argued that, unfortunately, they were never going to realistically see the announcement. We spoke to a number of students about how they felt.

Bethan Fairhurst, 2nd year English Literature

"It seems unfair and confusing to put a lecture like this in the middle of reading week when the majority of students go home. There also were not sufficient notices or announcements about the lecture so I wasn't even aware it was happening. As someone that would have really benefited from, and appreciated a lecture like that, I'm upset that it was placed at such an inconvenient time. The email was inappropriate. They should be giving us support and help like this throughout the year, and they're acting now like a one off lecture is a privilege."

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Bethan Fairhurst

Saskia Davis, 2nd Year English Literature

"I was so angry. They're making us feel so bad about it … Imagine how this would impact people who genuinely do loads of work and get anxious about it."

She also argued that given the lecture wasn't compulsory, the department has no right to instigate registered lectures as a response to this."I don’t feel like we should be getting punished for not showing up to a voluntary lecture in reading week just cos they’re salty that no one showed."

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Saskia Davis

Ben House, 3rd Year English Literature

Ben said that scheduling a lecture during reading week, and subsequently registering lectures, has serious implications for working-class students. He points out that the late notice of the Week 6 lecture meant that some students had already either bought tickets home or scheduled work shifts, and the following response by the university shames lower income students who can't afford to rearrange plans.

He also argued that registering lectures puts students like him at a disadvantage. “Although it’s not ideal, sometimes I do have to miss university in order to go to work, because at the end of the day, I have to pay my rent and I have to eat. I can be working up to five days a week, but I can always make sure I catch up via Canvas and Panopto. But this new measure makes me feel that I can’t learn in a way that works for my situation, although it’s my tuition fees that are paying their wages.”

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Ben House

A spokesperson for the University of Birmingham said: “In addition to compulsory modules, we also offer a number of optional sessions for students throughout the year on topics such as study skills, assessment and feedback.

“In this case, the session was an optional addition to enrich the standard timetable and was held during reading week, therefore students were not obligated to attend.

"Similar non-compulsory sessions on assessment skills have been held and were attended voluntarily by students.

“Meanwhile, as part of our work to ensure we protect our students’ welfare, we make contact with students to inquire if they need any support should they miss two consecutive compulsory seminars or lectures.”