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Revocation of remote learning leaves students in the lurch

Lockdown lows aren’t short-lived, temporary setbacks. Student circumstances have worsened but in-person teaching is still pushed.

By Samira Rauner

Photo courtesy of John Lord via Flickr

With the university’s communications team having announced on April 7th 2022 that online learning is now ‘no longer considered a necessary measure’, students who depend on remote learning for a variety of personal reasons since the onset of covid-19 have been abandoned.

In their email the university writes ‘now that restrictions have been lifted’, online study is no longer deemed ‘necessary’—though they acknowledge the ‘difficulties’ that ‘some students faced as a result of the pandemic’. Difficulties that some students faced.

What the university’s email here arguably seems to imply is that, now that lockdowns are no longer a common occurrence, personal circumstances that previously rendered on-campus learning impossible for some students seem to have now magically disappeared as well. Truth is, they have not.

The university’s decision to revoke the possibility of online learning does nothing less than deny the existence of difficulties that unfortunately continue to shape the reality of some students. Students who have, since covid-19, depended on remote learning to navigate their personal circumstances, and who are now left in the lurch.

The possibility to continue their studies online was a vital option for a range of students. It was an option for students who were at a high risk from covid-19, for students who experienced mental health struggles as a result of covid-19, for students who were left unemployed as a result of covid-19 and could no longer afford to pay rent, for students whose families experienced financial struggles as a result of COVID-19 and who could no longer support their child’s move. It was a vital option for students who, for whatever reason, could not return to Aberdeen to continue their studies in person.

In contrast to the university, who seem to believe that the difficulties students ‘faced’ have somehow magically disappeared along with covid restrictions, the mental, financial, and physical impacts of covid-19 continue to shape the reality of some students and their families.

Here is the financial reality the university denies some students are faced with:

  • One in five are experiencing ‘financial difficulty’.

  • 23% of surveyed adults in the UK reported that covid-19 was ‘affecting their household finances’, with 70% of those reporting ‘reduced income’ and 30% stating that they ‘needed to use savings to cover living costs’.

  • 87% of surveyed adults in the UK reported that their ‘costs of living had increased’ and 43% reported that they ‘found it very or somewhat difficult to pay their bills’.

  • The percentage of adults who reported that they thought they would be able to ‘save any money in the next 12 months’ decreased to 37%.

Considering these statistics, how can the University of Aberdeen expect all their students to be able to return to campus? With students having lost their jobs, with parents whose support some students relied on having lost their jobs, with students or their families struggling financially, how can the university expect that their financial situations to have recovered? But of course, as the university writes, ‘restrictions have been lifted’—so naturally, financial struggles as a result of the pandemic have also been lifted. Of course.

Similarly, looking at the statistics for the impact of covid-19 on mental health and general well-being, it is arguably only possible to refuse students the facility of remote learning by simply denying the existence of any psychological or physiological difficulties.

The reality is:

  • 1 in 6 adults in the UK still experienced some form of depression in summer 2021. Pre-pandemic, 1 in 10 adults experienced some form of depression.

  • The ‘prevalence of clinically significant depressive symptoms’ increased from 12.5% (pre-pandemic) to 22.6% (mid-2020).

  • The covid-19 mental health and well-being surveillance report suggests that the ‘cumulative effect of repeated pandemic waves/lockdowns’ may have resulted in an ‘increased and prolonged negative effect on mental health and wellbeing’.

  • More individuals have reported providing personal care, which is accompanied by ‘more mental health strains’, specifically ‘feeling sad/depressed and anxious/nervous more often’.

In their April email, the university’s communication team wrote: ‘we believe that your learning […] significantly benefits from peer-to-peer interaction which is best delivered through on-campus teaching and learning’. Absolutely. I whole-heartedly concur—at least with the second part of the statement. The return to on-campus teaching is something that thousands of students have hoped and longed for, and, naturally, on-campus teaching comes with a myriad of benefits to both students’ academic and personal growth.

Yet simply because this move back to on-campus teaching is something the majority has hoped for does not mean that there are not still some students for whom on-campus teaching is simply not a possibility.

Whether it be due to mental health difficulties, financial struggles, care duties, or other personal circumstances, it may simply not be an option for some.

What the university’s decision to revoke the option for online study does is nothing less than abandon those students who have for the past year, at least, depended on remote learning. This leaves students without any support and without any perspective.

The University of Aberdeen needs to reflect on what their revocation of online study means for some students and ask themselves why a student for whom the return to on-campus teaching post-covid is financially not possible is suggested to suspend their studies and apply for readmission in the coming year rather than being heard, understood, and supported by allowing them to attend their two weekly classes via Blackboard Collaborate. True story.


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