Why is Edinburgh Uni allowed to slack in teaching but we’re not allowed to as students?

“Students can’t be expected to perform at the same level when they’re not receiving the same quality of education.”

I’m a fourth year English Literature student at Edinburgh University. My contact hours have been cut in half, group seminars have been replaced by discussion boards and I have no access to library books. Yet, my deadlines have not changed, online resources are lacking and I am now in my final semester facing assessments with only the empty promise that circumstances will be acknowledged by the exam board. This is not enough.

To say that the student experience is demanding right now would be an understatement. The normal pressures of uni life are enough to make anyone feel a tad stressed, but add in a pandemic and another lockdown, and it’s a miracle we’re functioning at all. Whilst university emails have stressed the importance of “mental health” and “wellbeing” from the beginning of the pandemic, these statements appear rather hollow compared to the reality of what is still being expected of students in these “unprecedented times”.

The quality of teaching has decreased

To preface, the course organisers and support staff at Edi Uni are great. They are some of the loveliest people and the quickest to respond to emails. I know adapting to a new style of teaching will always take some time, trial and error. Of course, the tutors themselves are doing an amazing job and devoting extensive hours to the preparation of online teaching. And of course, I’m aware that teaching has to alter when you move to an online environment. However, the quality of teaching has been seriously affected by the pandemic. It’s time the administration recognised that students can’t be expected to perform at the same level when they are not receiving the same quality of education.

I can’t see how the student experience right now is any better than that of March 2020. In fact, I believe for final year students our time at university has been far more disrupted, and we are deserving of a no detriment policy. If the university administrative staff are as concerned for our mental health and wellbeing as they say they are, why has this not been implemented?

I have had contact hours slashed 

During my final year at Edinburgh Uni, I will enjoy a total of 32 hours of teaching. Over two semesters. In response to the challenges of online learning, the department cut our hours in half. I don’t know who made the department-wide decision for English tutorials to be 50 minutes long, but they clearly have never tried to discuss a 600-page book in less than an hour. The cuts to teaching time from two-hour seminars to 50 minutes has eliminated any possibility of in depth conversation. Additionally, if you are someone who needs a little time to warm up before contributing to class discussion, the time pressure of a shorter seminar puts added stress into what is an already stressful situation. With all uni buildings shut and borrowing library books an impossibility, it also means I am paying £289 an hour for this – a fact I could have done without.

Discussion boards are not a substitute for teaching 

You know that feeling when you’re all contributing to a discussion board and having a really enlightening conversation? No? Me neither. I understand that asynchronous learning is important for those who are unable to join a live seminar, but how can you possibly argue that a discussion board replaces an hour of live teaching? The department does not have to give me the usual amount of teaching. I, on the other hand, have to complete the same number of assessments at the same length with no safety net.

No resources at a crucial time

I’m sure that many fourth year students made plans take a well-deserved break over Christmas before returning to Edinburgh in late December or early January to continue (or make a start) on the dreaded dissertation. The announcement of a travel ban followed by a lockdown and pause to the library loan service has ruined these plans.

How are we supposed to produce dissertations without any access to invaluable resources? Despite raising concerns with supervisors, we have been told to work to the original deadlines. This is impossible when texts we are reliant upon are not available online. The dissertation has always been known to be a huge cause of stress to final year students, but in a year with so many extra challenges, why is there no extra cushion for us?

The mental impact

Living through the pandemic and numerous lockdowns takes its toll. Restrictions on seeing friends and family can make you feel isolated. Many students who relied on part time jobs to help them through their studies are now facing financial worries. Trying to maintain a high level of academic work on top of all this is exhausting. How were your peers and tutors towards the end of semester one? Many of mine were almost at breaking point.

It’s vital that the senior leaders of Edinburgh Uni take action now and extend the no detriment policy before we become even more overwhelmed than we already are. Students across the country are at mental health crisis.

Fourth years need something concrete to hold onto going into our final months at Edinburgh, rather than empty promises of consideration and acknowledgment.

Related articles recommended by this writer:

An Edi student has started a petition for a no detriment policy for fourth years

The Class of 2021 are owed a no detriment policy, read for yourself

Teaching will be online until at least end of February says Nicola Surgeon and uni email