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Poll: 2 in 3 say 'stop face-to-face teaching'

University’s plans to continue blended learning rejected by most in Gaudie survey

By: Jake Roslin

The University has enforced strict mask-wearing rules - Photograph: Jake Roslin

Most respondents want teaching to move entirely online while the Covid-19 pandemic continues, according to a poll recently carried out by The Gaudie.

The call by lecturer’s union UCU to cease face-to-face tuition except where genuinely unavoidable was supported by just under two-thirds of the 83 respondents to the social media survey.

This comes as the University plans a second semester of “blended learning” from January.

Prior to the start of this academic year, the University and College Union (UCU) called on universities to ‘scrap plans to reopen campuses [...] in order to prevent a major public health crisis’. This followed the Government’s decision not to act on findings of its SAGE Committee (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) which concluded on 21 September that Covid-19 outbreaks were ‘very likely’ in university communities and that closing institutions would reduce the rate of transmission.

The UCU is now challenging the Government’s decision to ignore SAGE’s advice, which the union believes was unlawful. ‘We have seen infection rates up to seven times higher at universities than in surrounding areas, and over 27,000 cases of Covid on campus with reports of students in intensive care,’ UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said in a statement on 24 October, ‘we are now witnessing a second wave that was preventable.’

In a joint statement with the National Union of Students (NUS) on 4 November, the staff union called for an ‘immediate move to online learning wherever possible’, as well as for universities to ensure no student was adversely affected academically or financially by their choice of whether to remain on campus or return home. They also challenged institutions to increase mental health provision and invest in “digital poverty” funds in light of the pandemic.

Traditional tutorials, carried out with social distancing, face masks and before and after desk cleaning are currently an option within many UoA undergraduate modules, although all students have the option to study fully online. Lectures have been pre-recorded from the start of the academic year, and the university’s libraries are open for restricted hours, with similar distancing and cleaning rules in force.

Students who spoke to The Gaudie took a balanced view of the situation. One second-year Politics student said that they felt the university’s standard of online tuition was ‘not completely’ equal to traditional teaching, ‘but it’s better than what we currently have to do face to face with masks and social distance’.

Another second-year who asked to be known as Miss Carins said: ‘All my classes are currently online so I have pretty much adjusted to the differences the pandemic has made to my studies, but I miss the social aspect and walking around the University, having lectures and tutorials on campus, meeting new people on my modules’.

And Emma Baird, a second-year English student, said ‘I know I definitely enjoy and honestly feel I need that contact time, but at the same time no one should be put at risk unnecessarily.’ ‘I really feel for first years right now,’ she continued, ‘they are not getting anywhere near a proper university experience’.

UCU, which represents 120,000 academics and support staff UK-wide, has an active membership at the University. During a set of strike days late in 2019 over pay and conditions, union pickets asking students not to enter campus enjoyed solidarity from some, although others were less impressed by the disruption. The new poll suggests students are again divided into whether to side with the lecturer’s union or the University, as it attempts to emulate the traditional campus experience as closely as possible in the face of Covid-19.

The Gaudie has carried out a substantial interview with the Aberdeen branch of UCU which reveals what they think of the University’s handling of the crisis, what their lecturer members feel about online teaching, and what happens next.

This will appear on the Gaudie's website later this week.

83 students were surveyed via Facebook and Twitter between 21-23 November 2020. 53 supported a move to fully online learning during the pandemic as proposed by UCU, while 30 preferred blended learning to continue.


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