Students ‘shocked’ as some University of Leeds MA courses pushed back to 2021

“I find their prioritisation of worldwide offer holders over their former students to be disheartening”, says one student

The University of Leeds has announced some of its Masters programmes will begin in January 2021 in response to its policy on social distancing.

Incoming Masters students have criticised the university for prioritising finance over students by opting for a policy which focusses on helping international students.

Offer holders for some courses received an email from Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, outlining plans to introduce “staggered student arrival times” and move course start dates to 2021. This was justified by “research conducted by over 6000 of our worldwide offer holders”. Multiple existing Leeds students with MA offers have told The Tab Leeds they were not consulted about this decision, contributing to the feeling the university is prioritising international students.

The email read: “It is a key part of our response to the many challenges the pandemic creates for global students and we are committed to ensuring your learning experience is the best it can be.”

The full email students received yesterday from Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

The university insists less than one in four Masters courses have a January only start date. A survey of masters applicants also showed 80 per cent of UK respondents would be happy with a January start date

A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “Our number one priority is a safe, phased return to campus for students and staff. To achieve this, we have taken account of the ability of students – from home and abroad – to join us in the autumn across our wide range of courses. This has enabled us to ensure the vast majority of UK and EU Masters students can start in September.

“We are sorry to have disappointed some of our applicants, but it has proved impossible to accommodate a September start date for everyone. We will of course be happy to discuss any challenges this presents for individual applicants.”

Despite this, one student, who recently finished her final year at the University of Leeds and plans to study a masters in Intellectual Property Law, told The Tab Leeds: “It’ll mean I graduate later and I’ll also have to find housing for another six months. It’s also uncertain especially regarding how the course will be financed because now student finance will probably only fund me from January onwards even though, like many others, I have already sorted out my housing.”

Will Fawcett and Patrick Hibberd, masters offer holders who have already studied at Leeds, also agree the University’s decision is unfair to home students. They have started a petition to introduce dual start dates which has already been offered to students at Loughborough and Queen Mary’s. They say this would benefit home and international students, and would still allow for the financial contribution from overseas students the university relies on.

Will on the left living his best student life before the university’s announcement

Will told The Tab Leeds moving MA courses back will make it much harder for him to get a job, and is concerned about how the shift will affect housing for masters students in Leeds: “The announcement came as a massive shock. The changes have really made me question whether I actually want to pursue a Masters degree and I have looked at other universities who I know have not introduced such a drastic change to their upcoming courses. Not only would the changes mean our careers are out of sync with the job recruitment cycle, but terminating my tenancy halfway through my course would cause many headaches.”

“I had been planning on applying to a number of competitive grad schemes, and the changes have meant I could not possibly apply this year to start in September 2021.”

“It has added a major barrier to looking for a job after uni, and I am disappointed with such a great ui making such a decision without any consideration of their former students.”

Patrick, who says this is the only photo of him where he doesn’t look drunk

Patrick says he thinks this policy conflicts the university’s approach to social distancing for other students: “The university has already acknowledged campus will reopen on the 28th of September, and although large-scale teaching will be digitised, small-scale teaching such as seminars and tutorials are encouraged to take place face-to-face. The university’s decision to delay MA courses to January conflicts with these outlines that they intend to implement in the upcoming academic year.

“A vast majority of students, myself included, were comfortable with the idea of the first semester of teaching being moved online entirely. The changes to the MA courses disregard this as a possibility completely.”

Patrick also says this amendment to MA start dates is a big problem for accommodation: “Most students who attend to University of Leeds are not local to Leeds. Delaying MA course not only forces students to pay for houses that they have no need to inhabit in Autumn, but also requires them to relocate mid-summer. This would be hugely stressful.”

He says it is particularly unfair to home students who have already studied in Leeds: “As an undergraduate who has spent three years, as well as upwards of £27,000, at the University of Leeds, I find their prioritisation of worldwide offer holders over their former students to be disheartening. This abrupt and dramatic change exemplifies a disconnect between the university of its students. Understandably, in a global pandemic, the University is trying their best to adjust to unfamiliarity. Yet these changes to the structure of MA courses seem to come at the benefit of international offer holders since their attendance at the University indicates a larger financial fee.”

It isn’t just home students who have found this adjustment problematic. Marta is an international student from Poland who completed her Bachelors at the University of Leeds with the intention to stay and study a Masters there. She told The Tab Leeds: “This decision seems harmful to the majority of students, no matter where they are from.

“This whole mess, lack of information or decisions made in last minute chaos has pushed me to make the decision of continuing my studies in another European Country… The reason for their decision claims to be to protection of safety and interest of students, but this in fact is not fully truth. Returning students, among which are British, EU and International students, already signed contracts four housing and have secured grad schemes for 2021. The university, by taking this decision, have not protected any type of student no matter where they are from. If this decision is not changed, many students will choose a university other than Leeds to continue their studies”

When approached for comment, the University of Leeds reiterated the authority of the email outlining the decisions to push back some MA course start dates.

You can sign the petition to change the University of Leeds’ stance on this matter here and/or here.