I’m done with Sussex Uni refusing to acknowledge that my course is fully online

What does your Autumn term schedule look like?

Despite the uncertainty that the Covid-19 health emergency brought upon students in March 2020, The University of Sussex has once again opened its doors to welcome its students for the Autumn semester. To prepare for this term, the management team at Sussex has published an extensive guide outlining the ways in which the staff will ensure the health and safety of each student. The new governmental policies undoubtedly have an immense impact on the way in which universities will function this year: aside from the obvious ways in which student life will be altered – restrictions on mass gatherings, social distancing in campus bars and cafes, limited study spaces in the library and the compulsory use of face coverings, there are also going to be great changes to teaching methods.

With semester one in full swing, you must now be pretty familiar with what your schedule is going to look like for the rest of the term. In efforts to abide social distancing laws, the university has carefully arranged each student’s itinerary to limit the amount of people in buildings and classrooms at any given time. The university guarantees a harmonious balance of online and in-person teaching to ensure maximum productivity: “Once you arrive, there will be a mix of in-person (classroom or lab work) teaching and different types of online learning”. Although this sounds like an equitable compromise, I quickly learned that it was far from reality.

The days leading up to induction week were stressful for me to say the least. It began with a seemingly innocuous notification that my timetable was subject to change: one of my modules moved online. That’s perfectly fine, I expected it to. But it quickly progressed to all of my modules moving online, which was really disappointing news. 

As a third year international student, returning to Brighton for this teaching term was not a simple task. On March 16th, my home country, Switzerland, announced that they were going to enter a state of lockdown. For me, the choice was between leaving my life in Brighton or remaining and potentially not seeing my family for 6 months. That same day I booked a flight and returned home. Because of this unexpected move, I had to organise my whole life from a distance. As my contract was terminating in June, I had to search for new housing in the UK from a distance (which was a very trying task), and, although challenging, I was finally ready to move back to Brighton in September for my final year at Sussex. Hardly 2 weeks before I was due to attend class in Pevensey II, I was told that my schooling was moving fully online.

At first, I thought that all university teaching was moving online, but after talking to a few friends that are also completing their final year, I promptly understood that it was not the case. It’s easy to get the sense that the university is abandoning you when all of your friends’ courses are still operating normally. After some investigation, I realised that I am not the only one affected by this schedule change, and that many others, for one reason or another, are in a similar situation.

What I want to make absolutely clear is that yes, it is very possible to conduct my course fully online, and I agree that it should in no way be prioritised over others, especially scientific courses that need laboratory time in order to graduate. However, as it is my final year, I had hoped that I would get to return to campus and continue my studies partially in-person as the university had initially advertised.

I understand that the administration has made these scheduling adjustments in order to keep its students and faculty safe during these unpredictable times. Frankly, I value that much more than any in-person teaching time: health is, and should remain, the number one priority during this time and I agree that sacrifices have to be made. I do applaud the Sussex administration for its navigation of these unprecedented circumstances; after all, we are currently receiving some form of education despite the global pandemic. Although sceptical at first, I have ultimately come to really enjoy my online classes. Despite this unconventional remedy, my tutors and peers are working really hard to make it work and so far it has been a really positive experience.

However, my frustrations are not unfounded, the university continues to claim that their teaching will remain a mix between in-person and online sessions but, like myself, there are countless other students not getting a service which matches this guarantee. I understand that the health emergency is challenging for everyone, and no one can be blamed for these unfortunate circumstances. Luckily, I have the will and ability to continue my degree online, but I wish the situation had been dealt with in a different way. I wish I was told about the reality of the situation slightly more in advance in order to get organised. And, more importantly, I wish that Sussex wasn’t assuring in-person classes that many will decidedly not receive this term.

I will not be returning to campus this term and if the situation does not improve, I will not be returning to Sussex at all.

A spokesperson from The University of Sussex’s department of Media, Arts and Humanities exclusively spoke to The Sussex Tab. They stated: “In Media, Arts and Humanities, we are offering blended learning and we have been working with faculty and students to identify any areas here there are gaps to in-person teaching. In areas of the curriculum where there are some staff working remotely, or where spaces haven’t reopened, in-person tutorials are available in the subject area as well as at the School level. We have identified some areas where last-minute changes have meant that more than one person is remote and, for those, we are introducing additional in-person workshops from week 3.”

All schools have since stressed that they are keen to hear about student experiences with online teaching and ways they can adapt it.