By Daniella Theis
Some of Strathclyde’s staff are calling on the University to commit to a learning model that is fully delivered online for next year’s semester.
UCU [University and College Union] members and branches, including Strathclyde’s members, have been calling on universities across the country to deliver course content and teaching entirely online ever since the start of the pandemic. Calls have now grown louder as the second wave of Covid-19 continues to ripple across the country.
Last week Strathclyde students were informed that the next semester will be delivered online for the first few weeks. The University expects that teaching will transition to a blended learning model after that timeframe has passed. Within an email, sent to all students, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Jim McDonald stated: “We are all very aware that planning ahead in the current environment is extremely challenging and that we all wish for more certainty in the months ahead. Our approach for semester two reflects this while providing the necessary flexibility to adapt to the changing external environment, consistent with the current Scottish Government guidance.”
Similar announcements of blended learning after a short period of online learning were made before the start of the first semester after summer. However, due to the high numbers of Covid-19 cases in Glasgow, the proposed blended learning model was only introduced for a limited number of subjects. With Tier 4 restrictions coming into place in Glasgow last week, all semester one classes have now been moved entirely online, meaning that most of Strathclyde’s students have not returned to campus at all while others only had a small number of face-to-face classes.
Online teaching: ‘should have been made the default’
Strathclyde UCU members argue that students should not be promised face-to-face teaching that is then not delivered, and that it is “irresponsible” to risk Strathclyde student’s and staff’s health by initiating a premature return to campus.
A Strathclyde UCU spokesperson said: “Strathclyde along with other universities across the UK, should have made online teaching the default, from the very beginning. There was no need to give the impression that students needed to be on campus for face-to-face teaching. A lot of the practical classes could have been postponed. For those students that were really needing to do practical stuff, there are alternative ways to test their ability and capability roundabout those things. We have seen that Glasgow has been a hotspot for increases in coronavirus cases. This has resulted in students being confined to their halls of residence for extended periods of time and having to do online lessons anyway.”
It is not just student’s health and safety Strathclyde UCU is concerned about. The group is also campaigning for the University to commit to online teaching to ensure the safety of all staff.
“The University wants to give the impression that face-to-face teaching will be put into place. That puts staff into a situation,” the same UCU spokesperson said: “We have UCU’s members whose health is not particularly good who are very concerned about coming back on to campus. Additionally, people who only have six months left on their contract – or don’t have a contract. They will feel very pressured into face-to-face teaching because they want to make sure they have a job next year.
“We are worried about Strathclyde’s position. We are especially concerned with Strathclyde’s position come January onwards. There is no clarity. If students who live in halls leave the halls, go home for Christmas, then come back in January; We are going to exactly be back to where we were with an influx of people coming from all across the country – possibly infecting people with coronavirus. If that then turns into face-to-face teaching, who knows what position we are in.
“It would be beneficial for students and staff at Strathclyde for management to take a clear, bold position at this time and to say that for the remainder of semester two it will all be online. That is the safest thing for staff. it is also the safest thing for students. Ultimately it is going to be the best thing for the University. I hope that the Scottish Government would make that very clear to the university sector. I would like to see the government support the university sector so that any financial impact of people moving home was not resulting in a reduction of income to the university.”
‘Students shouldn’t have to worry about being conned into returning to campus’
A BBC Disclosure documentary aired last month found that for many universities there is a financial incentive to promise face-to-face teaching even during a global pandemic. International student fees and accommodation packages are said to be an important part of income and universities’ finances across the country.
Anna McKinley, Strath Union’s International Student Rep, feels that choices were made by the University to “exploit international students.” McKinley confirms international students received multiple emails about deadlines for arrivals according to visas as well as for in-person learning commencing despite many later having to do classes entirely online after arriving in the country. She adds: “Students shouldn’t have to worry about being conned into returning to campus. I cannot pick a perfect solution to semester two, especially as we move into new frontiers regarding the pandemic, but I am sure that international students are feeling abandoned by the University. Given false hope of in-person learning, isolated to their student accommodation- all while paying full price for tuition as well as accommodation.”
‘Students deserve better’
Last month, Strath Union launched the ‘We Stand With Students’ campaign. Strathclyde UCU emphasises that they “entirely support” this campaign. As a final message to Strathclyde students from Strathclyde UCU, the spokesperson of the branch wanted to send words of encouragement. They said:
“Students deserve better. We really want to stress and praise students in their efforts. This is not an easy time for anybody but particularly for people that are attempting to achieve an academic qualification. From what I have seen from their effort and application, no one can fault the students at Strathclyde for their resilience at this time. But they shouldn’t have to be resilient. To those students that have been disadvantaged by the whole situation – who find this difficult – to them, we show our empathy and solidarity.
“Keep your head down and keep going. In a very short space of time, you will be graduating. With the way things are going with the vaccine, we hope that we will be returning to face-to-face teaching at some point in the future. But that time is not right now. Right now, it needs to be online. We will continue to do our very best to make online learning the very best it can be for students at Strathclyde.”
Up to date guidance, links to support services, the Covid-19 hardship fund, and anything related to measures introduced at Strathclyde due to Covid-19 can be found here:
The We Stand with Students campaign can be found here: