My online teaching has not been to a ‘high standard’ and I want my money back
What am I even paying for at this point?
Last week, it was announced via email that the University of Sussex did not plan to refund tuition fees for the loss of teaching and resources due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an email, Kelly Coates, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students, told Sussex students: “We’re doing all we can to ensure the education and learning you’re receiving remains at a high-standard. We are also working hard to ensure you are able to achieve the learning outcomes of your course.”
As a third year Sussex student, I can tell you now, my online teaching has not been to a “high standard”.
It is important to say now that I am not at all angry that the quality of online teaching is not the same as face-to-face teaching. It is entirely understandable and ignorant for anyone to expect that. To expect the University to deliver high quality, online teaching with next to no notice would be entirely unrealistic. And I have incredible respect for all the efforts my tutors have made to help me as much as they are able. I entirely understand why the teaching I’ve received since the university shut hasn’t been “high quality”.
But to simply ignore the fact that the quality of teaching has been lowered due to the pandemic and pretend everything has functioned entirely as normal is completely blind to reality.
I am a third year student, currently trying to juggle a dissertation and assignments from other modules. Since campus has closed, I have received no lectures, and no online seminars, unlike other university students across the country. I had one online discussion board during which I was the only participant. Again, I cannot repeat enough that I understand why the quality of teaching has not been good, but to insist that one online discussion is the equivalent of face-to-face teaching is insulting.
I am not the only student at Sussex who feels let down by the University management’s refusal to reconsider tuition fees in light of the impact on our teaching. I spoke to students from across the Uni about what kind of teaching they’ve received, and the response was pretty negative.
One first year Drama student told me about their experience with online teaching, for a particularly interactive degree: “I honestly think it is appalling. I study drama, theatre and performances and we have seminars which are very interactive and full of debates which is essential to the way we learn in our degree.
“The only substitute of learning we have received is to ask questions on a discussion board and a few emails. I haven’t been taught anything and don’t feel like I’ve gained anything.”
Some students have reported no alternative to face-to-face teaching at all. One business management second year told us their online teaching was “non existent”, whilst a second year law student told us “my education is non-existent not gonna lie. I don’t give a f*ck anymore”.
The move to online teaching is undoubtedly hitting final years the hardest. A final year biology student told us his online teaching has been extremely limited: “I haven’t really had any [online teaching]. Just a lot of lecture recordings from previous years. One of my modules was meant to be a field trip which you can’t really replace very well. Which is annoying because that module is also worth twice as much.”
A final year maths student seemed to be receiving more teaching than most but didn’t feel it could be described as “high quality”: “Two of my lecturers have uploaded videos of them talking through their lecture notes, one has uploaded the lecture slides.
“Quite frankly I think it’s silly, how on earth can this be compared to teaching in real life? And more importantly how this is worth £9250?”
It’s important to point out that a few students did report to us being happy about their online teaching. One second year media production student told us: “the Uni have given us software for free (but only useful if you have a laptop that can support it) and have amended our assessments so it can be completed The communication has been really good and emphasised that our wellbeing comes first before uni work.”
However, this does not balance out the large number of students who don’t think they have had online teaching that is of a high quality, like this second year music student, who told us: “Some lecturers have been really helpful and put recordings and worksheets on canvas, but others have literally sent round an A4 sheet of words which is meant to be equivalent for a 2 hours seminar. I could find that on wikipedia.”
A second year politics and human rights student spoke to the Tab Sussex saying: “There is no world in which our full tuition fees are worth a few hours on Zoom with our tutors and the assumption that everyone has access to these facilities is inherently classist. The strikes showed that university management has complete disregard for many members of staff, their response to the pandemic shows they have complete disregard for the students too. If you’re not working for your staff or for your students then who the f*ck are you working for?”
So given the large number of students who feel far from pleased with the alternative teaching they have received, how can the University administration, with a straight-face, tell us that this counts as “high quality” teaching?
The Sussex Tab approached the University with the large number of negative complaints about the lack of online teaching being provided to students and feelings of anger towards the University for refusing to lower tuition fees.
In a statement emailed to all students in light of the concerns the Tab Sussex raised, the pro Vice-Chancellor for education Kelly Coates stated: “I do accept that the Coronavirus pandemic has brought about a monumental shift in the way we all live our lives – especially for you and students around the world, and in nearly every University. I also accept that the experience for students will vary – including those within Sussex.
“Whilst we have received a lot of very positive feedback from students, and the numbers of you who are accessing content and online learning demonstrates a high engagement rate with the online learning we have put in place, I don’t want to ever assume that the experience is the same for everyone.
“We know from analytics that there is essential course and module content on Canvas and Panopto that isn’t being accessed as much as it could be. It is our job to make sure you know it is there, so please get in touch if you are struggling.”
As a student who is ending their final year at Sussex, I know my way around Canvas. I know how to access the content I need. And I have seen all the resources my tutors have worked hard to make available to me. It just cannot be compared in quality to face-to-face teaching.
Ms. Coates comments also seem to ignore the recent introduction of a ‘no detriment’ policy by the University. This policy was introduced to, in the words of Ms. Coates herself, prevent grades being negatively affected by “the disruption you will have encountered as a result of the move to teaching online and the fact that not all students have the same access to learning online as everyone else.”
So if the University has admitted, in the introduction of a no-detriment policy, that the standard of teaching provided to us is limited because of the pandemic, why will they not lower the fees we are paying to be taught?
When I decided to come to University, I did not place myself in thousands of pounds of debt for a piece of paper with ‘degree’ written at the top. I came here to learn. And in this, my final term at University, I have not learnt what I was promised.
By its refusal to change the tuition fees for this term the University of Sussex seems to have admitted that we are not paying for a high quality of teaching. We are paying for a piece of paper we get at the end.