By Flossie Palmer, Features Subeditor
Both freshers and undergraduates alike were promised ‘blended learning’ upon their return to Bristol this academic year. The majority expected business as usual on campus, with the odd pre-recorded lecture from home.
Instead, we’ve been faced with considerably reduced contact hours, a four hour weekly allowance at the library and expensive student rent that could have been avoided.
So far, it seems that student interests have been side-lined for a nationwide, institutional thirst for tuition fees. When what we originally signed up for has turned into something worth much less, the question is why we are all still paying at least £9,250 per year for a mostly online education which falls below standard?
Students have found their contact hours significantly reduced in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It cannot even be said that most teaching takes place on campus, as the semi-asynchronous aspects of degrees involve online learning; only around half of these activities are face-to-face. So, what are we actually paying for, if it’s not in-person seminars and practicals?
Not only are we paying the full price for less face-to-face learning, we are also paying for less resources created specifically for our course. Lots of content used in the asynchronous, online tasks isn’t even produced by the University, including links to podcasts and newspaper articles for some Humanities students.
Although it could be argued that this material is needed to build up background knowledge for more complicated topics, it feels as though the University is struggling for ideas of its own.
Why should we still pay full price for a lower quality service?
Despite seminars and tutorials being moved online, not all of these sessions are up to standard. Wi-fi connectivity issues and the instability of the Blackboard Collaborate programme are the most guilty culprits.
Quality teaching has been replaced by a greater focus on whether your tutor can hear you, and distraction over microphone feedback.
If we are paying full tuition fees for overall less teaching time, surely it would be sensible to upgrade the wi-fi of our tutors and provide them with methods of teaching that don’t involve copy-and-paste style online resources.
Tuition fees aren’t the only financial struggle facing the student body. Students returned to University halls and privately rented accommodation mainly due to the University’s promise of ‘blended learning’, with both online and in-person teaching.
High student rent could have easily been avoided if the University had been more honest
However, after experiencing dramatically reduced in-person contact hours only once term started, with most courses offering online alternatives, it is possible for some students to continue studying from home. So it seems that students have been led into yet another trap, this time in the form of tenancy agreements.
Maintenance loan debt and high student rent could have easily been avoided if the University had been more honest about their teaching plans, which certainly aren’t as ‘blended’ as we expected.
The unnecessary financial pressure of student rent is pushing more students into part-time employment, further risking the spread of coronavirus that the University aimed to prevent.
It is true that students are unlikely to ever pay back all tuition fee debt. Some of us will land better jobs than others post-graduation, others may receive financial help from family. But it is still necessary that as a student body, we stand in solidarity of issues that target us collectively.
Students are infamously taken advantage of, especially when renting, but to face the same treatment by our own University over tuition fees is unexpected. We may never pay back all of what we owe, but why should we still pay full price for a lower quality service?
Most customers wouldn’t think twice about seeking a refund for a faulty product, and this, in theory, is arguably similar.
Overall, it would only be fair for this year’s tuition fees to be reduced to reflect both the quality of online learning and our limited access to the University. If our teaching cannot be compensated for due to the pandemic, our financial debt should be.
Featured Image: Epgram / Siavash Minoukadeh
Do you feel students have been taken advantage of this year?