‘It’s heartbreaking’: UoB students on their departments’ responses to the lockdown

Departments have been sending out emails since the lockdown began on Wednesday morning

Content warning: this article contains discussion of mental health issues and suicide. 

England’s third national lockdown was announced on Tuesday, bringing with it closures of schools, non-essential shops and businesses.

Universities are remaining open for students studying subjects like medicine, social work, education and veterinary science, whereas students studying all other subjects have been told to remain where they are until at least mid-February.

However, students at UoB have been protesting the university’s current choice to not have a no-detriment policy, as several departments say they consider current measures to be enough to help students.

The School of English, Drama and Creative Studies (EDACS) sent around an email on Wednesday, which said “we designed this academic year in full expectation of possible disruption, and we are confident that the resilient plans we put in place over the summer will work.” This has been hit with backlash from students from the department, who called it “a slap in the face” and complaining that “it says nothing useful”.

The Birmingham Tab spoke to Allie, a third year English Literature student, who said that the English department’s choices had severely affected her mental health and wellbeing. “I’ve had two suicide attempts, the first in week seven when we first started working on assignments, and then on December 3rd. I applied to the university counselling services in October for help and they said they would get back to me in a month. They still haven’t responded.”

Students in the Political Science department were advised to “continue with your work as best as you can” and assuring them that “we are committed to supporting you and making sure that your work is fairly assessed”. Polsis second year Aaminah spoke to the Birmingham Tab, saying that “I have full sympathy for lecturers with the constant changes, but departments should be campaigning for and pushing for a no detriment policy. A scroll through Brumfess will reveal the magnitude of the current mental health crisis at this uni.”

The CAHA department responded to students after the government’s address as well, reminding them of the five-day ‘grace period’ on assignments in the department, but also pressing that “this does not apply to take-home exams”, which students are expected to sit from 11th January onwards. A final year Classical Literature and Civilisation student in CAHA, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Birmingham Tab that “the way the university has treated us has been utterly heartbreaking. It’s killing not only my love for my subject, but also my mental health. The UoBe festival is just making it worse.”

Departments in other colleges have also been responding to the situation, with Metallurgy and materials students being told they “will not be able to carry out any more lab work”, but that they are discussing “contingency plans” to make sure that grades aren’t affected by this. Mat and Met is one of the many subjects reliant on in-person labs and work that will not be allowed back under the current lockdown restrictions.

UoB put out a statement on Tuesday evening adding that they would be “flexible and understanding if you encounter difficulties”, but haven’t mentioned a response to a student petition to implement a no-detriment policy. This would enable students to graduate with their best 80 credits of the year, and mean they couldn’t do worse than they have in their previous years at uni.

A spokesperson for the University of Birmingham said: “Following the Prime Ministers announcement on Monday 4 January we are still waiting for the more detailed guidance from the Department for Education about how this affects Universities and different types of students. We heard the announcement at the same time as everyone else and we are working through many of the concerns and queries that we know students will have.

“We want to support everyone to be able to achieve their potential and recognise the challenging circumstances that people are facing. We are listening to student feedback, and as highlighted in our all student e-mail we are already working on an update to our Frequently Asked Questions for students relating to assessment and “no detriment” where we will continue to be flexible, understanding and supportive.

“We are very aware that many students will be working on assessments and preparing for examinations in conditions and circumstances that may be different to those originally envisaged. We have put in place further safeguards as a result of our experience last year, and we are currently updating our FAQs to reflect the latest situation.

“We do understand that students will have many questions at this stage, and would kindly ask for patience and understanding as we review the evolving guidance and circumstances. We are actively working through all of the concerns and queries we have received and will be back in touch as soon as we can.”

The open letter to UoB asking for a no detriment policy has been set up by a group of students, and can be found here.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues mentioned, then please contact the Samaritans on 116 123, or Birmingham Nightline on 0121 472 4621.

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