Uni of Leeds students launch petition to ‘save our grades’

“We simply cannot carry on as if this was a normal university year”

Two students launched a petition to ‘’level the playing field” and allow for the Covid-19 pandemic to have a lesser effect on student grades.

The petition gained over 400 signatures on Sunday evening, after it was posted to Facebook. The open letter addresses how measures introduced by the University of Leeds may disadvantage students, particularly disabled students and those from working-class backgrounds.

It calls for the reintroduction of a “safety net” for grades, extensions, and the reduction of workloads.

Vic Johnson and Catheryne Alicia Sturgess-Fairbairn launched the campaign after noticing the negative mental health and academic impact on students of university imposed coronavirus regulations.

“There’s literally a pandemic, and yet we’re still being held to the same standards as before”

Vic, a final year English Literature student, told The Leeds Tab: “I spoke to a number of people before launching the campaign who all told me that at the moment they have absolutely no motivation at all and basically everyone’s mental health is pretty much in the gutter.

She also told us: “The main things we’re getting at is the fact there’s literally a global pandemic, people can’t leave their homes, mental health is spiralling, there’s complete inequality in access to resources, and yet we’re still being held to the same standards as before when it comes to university works and assessment.”

Organisers say students feel let down by university inaction

Catheryne, a final year Politics student and former LUU Community Offier, told The Leeds Tab: “I’m launching the petition with Vic because both of us naively presumed the university would already have our backs on this issue and would have considered that there is currently no level playing field with regards to being able to access the same learning conditions.

“However, one day before the university re-opens we came together (online of course) to essentially start it ourselves in the absence of any similar communication from the university. We really hope to open their eyes to the fact that we simply cannot carry on as if this was a normal university year, and it is deeply unfair on many students to expect that.

“I know other students unions have been active in lobbying the university for measures to be introduced reflecting the ways that Covid has impacted on students’ ability to produce a high standard of academic work, so I am disappointed in LUU for this.

“Although from my time working there I know that the current sabbatical officers don’t always have control over the decisions made by the SU. Many universities have just brushed this under the carpet and are still expecting students to turn in the same amount, if not more work than usual.

“I don’t believe we’re uniquely disappointing, but I do see this as an opportunity for Leeds to help lead the way in a more sympathetic and understanding relationship with their student body.”

Organisers believe disabled and working class students are most affected

Catheryne said her personal circumstances drew attention to the hardships some will be facing under coronavirus restrictions: “I’m from a working class family in Sunderland. Personally I live in a fairly cramped household without a desk of my own to use, and I have been painstakingly attempting to complete essays, as well as part of my dissertation at the kitchen table of my house, in a fairly noisy environment full of distraction. I also prefer to follow lockdown rules quite strictly as I have a history of ill health, so I’m living at home.

“My work has undoubtedly suffered as a result of this.

“And, because many of the academic texts for my course are not available virtually, I feel I’m missing out on vital information to complete my assignments. Both of these experiences have left me feeling as if working class and disabled university students are facing significant barriers in being able to continue the year ‘as normal’.”

Vic also noted how the working class and disabled students are most disadvantaged due to restrictive measures: “Catheryne and I are both working-class students who have been struggling due to not having access to a desk and libraries not being open. I’m also have ADHD so battling with being disabled, not having access to a work space and having over 10,000 words to write in the space of about four weeks has turned into an impossibility. We haven’t heard from the university at all during this period either and have been offered absolutely zero support.”

What else does the open letter say?

The open letter reads: “The situation over the Christmas period has worsened rapidly, and the third wave of this pandemic is looking to be the worst we have experienced yet. Students have received little guidance from the University and the government alike whilst continuing to navigate the impacts we have felt financially, academically and emotionally.

“The sole response received was in the form of finding ourselves scapegoated by both the government and press, with little support from the institution we hoped would be working to support us.”

Whilst the letter ensures the efforts of teaching staff are appreciated, it also says: “Schools within the university have not taken sufficient steps to level the playing field between students of diverse backgrounds, and protect students against unfair underperformance.”

The open letter highlights three areas, in order of preference, which they think could protect students against disadvantage as a result of the pandemic:

  1. A reintroduction of the safety net offered to the graduating class of 2020
  2. A blanket extension on all assignments due up to the start of the second semester. This will not impact students who are on track, but will hugely assist in levelling the playing field for those in difficult circumstances
  3. An overall reduction in the written workload for undergraduate students due to the lack of equal access to resources and appropriate learning environments

You can sign the petition here.