By Monika Metodieva
Last week, the Strathclyde Students Union launched their new campaign We Stand With Students that addresses the exploitation and mistreatment of students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday they also launched and open letter and a petition to the University of Strathclyde.
They will be addressing issues such as student fees, blended learning, and wellbeing. This campaign wants to achieve overall online teaching and to allow students to opt-in to face to face teaching when they are comfortable, and when it is safe to do so.
“This would be in replacement of our current complicated opt-out process which involves personal circumstances forms, and treats the pandemic as if it is a personal issue” says Kayla-Megan Burns, President at Strathclyde Students Union.
It also aims to ensure that students have access to necessities such as food, laundry, and regular COVID testing – particularly when isolating
“Students are one of the most vulnerable groups in society due to the conditions in which they are housed in student halls, and also due to their reliance on jobs from sectors such as hospitality (which has been one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of COVID-19) to supplement their income.”
We need formalized systems to make sure that these basic needs can always be met, so that students aren’t just stuck in their cell-like halls bedrooms – which they were recommended to move into, and which institutions profit off – without basic necessities” she adds.
“We also need sufficient, fast and regular testing of students, as once again, we have only done what we were told to do by moving to university, however, it is now abundantly clear that we are at increased risk by doing so. Many of us do not have cars or other forms of transport if a test centre close to us is booked, so we cannot travel” continues Burns.
The Students Union has also been fighting for reduction of tuition fees and compensation of students in halls who have moved in on the promise of blended learning.
“Many students have moved up and down the country, if not across the world to attend Strathclyde unnecessarily, at significant costs to ourselves, all while we are paying tuition fees for an experience which we can get at many other institutions for significantly less. We would like our money back” she says.
Last but by no means least, they are striving for clarity from the University.
“Throughout the pandemic we have been given totally contradictory information on what we are expected to do, with little to no notice or justification behind these decisions. We need the ability to plan our lives for more than 2 weeks at a time, and we deserve to have clear expectations for what our time at university will be like.”
They are asking for published lists of courses that can’t be done entirely online, as well as clear outlines for what can be done in person and what benefits we would get from this.
“This is so that we can make properly informed decisions in regards to our housing, finance, and just generally plan our lives” adds Burns.
Many students raised their concerns about tuition fees. However, the University did not agree to reduce them. The Union established a COVID-19 Scholarship and increased funds are being input in the COVID-19 hardship fund.
This new scholarship is available to all returning self-funded students, who have been impacted financially because of the pandemic. It will support students by looking at outstanding fees and repayments, assessment for hardship support where students are struggling to meet essential living costs.
The scholarship is assessed by a panel consisting of people from different areas of the University including finance, hardship, faculties, and student experience with the idea that they can tailor the scholarship to meet the needs of each individual student. To apply all you need to do is get in contact with firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of students have contacted the Union for support.
“We as students have been faced with such wild levels of uncertainty due to university. Initially it was problems like not knowing how our exams were going to be affected, but due to the lack of forward planning and honest, realistic communication from the university we have now reached a point where it’s affecting every area of our lives – from our finances due to the expense of tuition fees, travel, and rent, to where and how we live, as well as how we interact with our families and loved ones” says Burns.
“In the union we have been attempting to highlight this picture of how any decisions made by the university affect students in such holistic ways, and it just doesn’t feel like that’s been properly taken on board. We have tried working closely with the university, sitting in their meetings and working in their system- but this just isn’t enough to get the things that students need” adds Burns.
She also says that many of our lecturers and staff share the same fears as us and they want to see students getting proper support. However, in other areas they tend to be met with a lot of resistance to any sort of change.
“It can be a real situation of passing off responsibility – in particular to the Scottish Government – for institutional decisions, and the dismissal of student opinions, which is really disheartening” says Burns.
You can sign their petition here http://chng.it/XkrBdttTmR.