“This isn’t a normal year, stop treating it like one”: Leeds students really, really need a safety net

Whilst virus resections are in place, we should be supported by our university

Wake up, consume several litres of coffee, work on 10% mental battery capacity for four hours, collapse into a lasagne and finally, fall asleep. This is pretty much how I’ve been co-existing with my own body throughout third year. Completely skint of motivation and yet heaped with work that I don’t even have full access to.

I can only describe my relationship with Minerva as ‘complicated’, ‘strained’, ‘lacking fulfilment’ as I’ve become less and less attentive to her demands.

This year has been a nightmare, and it’s looking to continue

The year so far has been a nightmarish slog and it’s not looking much better for this upcoming semester. With travel bans across the country and the Government telling students not to return to campus, many are being faced with yet another semester of unsupported bedroom learning.

What’s worse, we’ve been made even more isolated after the uni told students in an email that they would only be able to access campus facilities if they had evidence of a negative test since arriving in Leeds.

Now, I can see their line of argument as the virus enters a third peak and the country falls further into disarray ( it literally looks like a wedding cake that’s fallen out on to a motorway), but this doesn’t mean the uni have a get out of jail free card when it comes to supporting their students. That’s not to say universities should be exempt from restrictions but I do think there should be more support for students, and work expectations should be eased to account for the fact almost a year of our education has been entirely disrupted.

Expectations for keeping students mental health in check should be as demanding as the uni’s expectation of work. A safety net would be a good place to start.

You’ve had me on the floor this year, Leeds

If the Class of 2020 got one, we should get a safety net, too

A petition launched on Sunday has now reached over 16 pages of signatures. It calls for the uni to remedy the strain on students who are facing higher or previous year equivalent workloads despite the reduction in access to proper teaching and resources. Complaints also highlight the fact that last year’s graduates were granted a “safety net” system to secure their grades in light of the fact that clearly the university weren’t able to offer to usual standard of teaching.

Upcoming graduates, myself included, have not yet been granted the relief of this safety net and are being expected to perform the same as previous years despite many having not had a single meeting, lecture or library visit in person.

Abbie, first year, says she’s been left to fend for herself in her first semester of university

Abbie, a first-year student summarised her first term at university by telling The Leeds Tab she has been left almost entirely unaided, with unresponsive tutors and impersonal emails. She has struggled to access any of the alleged support across uni and has experienced exceptionally long processes that gave ‘a few weeks waiting period’ before counselling could be offered. Alongside this she has been greeted with only “dear personal tutee” emails from her personal tutor.

In the midst of a pandemic and with presumably only a small number of tutees, this is completely unacceptable and has only exacerbated students’ feelings of isolation. At no point in a student’s university years should they be treated with such contempt and particularly for eighteen-year-olds transitioning to independent living, what sort of message is this to the young people who are paying short of 10 grand to be in their care?

Mandy, third year, thinks university U-turns should warrant a safety net

Third year student Mandy also told The Leeds Tab about a module she did last year in which, after telling students exams were then optional, made a complete U-turn and demanded they retake this January. The school said they had made a mistake, despite this meaning that students had to take on an entire exam worth of preparation over the festive period.

This means grades will undoubtedly suffer, so introducing a safety net would be fair to students whose work has suffered due to restrictions, but would not negatively impact students who feel their education has not suffered too much, even if these students are in the minority.

We need a safety net

There are only so many times we can say, ‘it isn’t the uni’s fault’ when they are making errors, leaving students on edge, and making assessments and grading unclear. In situations like this, it’s hard to feel as though we aren’t being failed by something we pay extortionately for.

I understand that universities have not been the cause of the virus, but their desire to actually keep their students safe and healthy appears to have diminished. In outlining plans, they should be aware of the individual situation of every student who’s already over-paying them.

Though it may be an option for some at home to open their Macbooks on a big wide desk with a Nespresso beside them, students having access to a computer, a workspace, Wi-Fi, and healthy family relationships is a gross misassumption from the university. More needs to be done to support individual student needs, supporting those who are strained to accept working conditions at home and offering a fall back when the high benchmark for work can’t be achieved due to circumstances out of our control.

You can sign the petition here.

(Updated: A previous version of this article said that The uNiversity of Leeds hadn’t specified how students could get lateral flow tests before returning to campus. This was incorrect and the relevent information can be found here.)

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