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Students to get minimum of two to three hours of in-person teaching a week next term, says University

The University will give students two to three in-person teaching hours a week minimum next term.

By Molly Pipe, Deputy News Editor

The decision follows disappointment from some students over the lack of on-campus teaching they will receive this term, despite a promise of blended learning.

Students at the University of Bristol will receive a minimum of two to three hours of in-person teaching per week next term, according to the Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Education, Tansy Jessop.

The two to three hour range may vary subject to whether a course has reading weeks.

Speaking to Epigram, Professor Jessop said the decision to set a minimum number of hours ‘is certain’ after agreement was reached by the University Executive Board.

Currently, some English students have three in-person teaching hours a week, compared to six hours a term for many Politics students

The Deans of each faculty have now been asked to sign off the plan for timetabling to be made.

This decision was reached following criticism from students over the number of in-person hours they will be receiving this term, despite the University’s promise of ‘blended learning’.

Many students have complained that they have far fewer contact hours than expected, and have noted significant disparities between subjects.

Some English students have reported having three on-campus hours per week, at one per module, whilst some Politics students only have two hours per module for the whole semester.

One fourth year Mechanical Engineer told Epigram he has no in-person lectures until at least Christmas, and only two to three hours of lab work this term.

Contact time has been cut down to protect staff and students from the virus | Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh

A number of students have also stressed they were not aware of just how few contact hours they would have until they saw their timetables, which were released shortly before the start of term.

Advance notice, some have said, may have affected their decision to return to Bristol and pay rent for accommodation.

Marina Barats, a 2nd year international student who studies Economics and Politics, told Epigram: ‘When we paid the [£19,000] tuition fee a week ago I was under the impression we’d have seminars face-to-face, and lectures online. During the Welcome Week I find out that the blended learning has come down to 2 in-person sessions per module per term [for Politics].

‘I feel I have been misled, intentionally or not, but no effort had been made to make it clear what we were signing up for.’

'I feel I have been misled' - Marina Barats, second year Economics and Politics

The Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Education, Tansy Jessop, explained that timetabling for Teaching Block One had been made more complicated by the ever-changing pandemic situation.

‘Schools did not know student numbers until August,’ she explained, ‘Then some had huge overshoots because of the A levels [situation], then had to adjust staff and timetables while preparing a completely different way of teaching.’

‘TB2 should be better without so many unknowns and with a clearer set of parameters, provided COVID does not scupper our plans.’

Questions have also been asked over the logic behind which subjects were given more hours for this term, with some more practical subjects having fewer hours than their theoretical counterparts.

Some practical subjects have fewer on-campus hours than theoretical subjects | Epigram / Delhi Kalwan

One fourth year Veterinary student told Epigram that he has two in-person hours a week on average, compared to the three in-person hours that various English students have reported.

First year Rowan Tall, who studies Mechanical Engineering, expressed frustration at the differing number of in-person contact hours between subjects. ‘I honestly thought there’d be a lot more time spent in labs, especially as an Engineering student,’ he said. ‘I thought I would spend a lot of time using equipment.’

Jessop explained that it was harder to schedule socially-distanced lab time than classroom time. ‘Getting lab time is really, really difficult with the facilities we have and social distancing,’ she said. ‘You have to deep-clean between lab sessions.’

Lab time is harder to facilitate under COVID-19 restrictions, the PVC for Education has said

She said it took time to compile comparative data on how many face-to-face hours each course had and that fellow senior staff only saw the information a few days before term began.

‘The disparities have caused us to see that [Schools] have made blended educational offers differently, and actually it is not equitable across different subjects.’

This new minimum for next term is a direct response, with Faculty Deans now having been asked to sign off on the plan, which will be implemented when the timetables for next term start to be drawn up in November.

COVID-19 spread is mainly through accommodation arrangements and social behaviours, not on-campus teaching, health advisor Caroline Relton has said | Epigram / Molly Pipe

However, this decision comes amidst concern among staff about the rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at Bristol University, whilst some face-to-face teaching continues.

Last month, Bristol Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) passed a motion calling for an immediate end to ‘unnecessary face-to-face, in-person teaching at the University of Bristol, with an immediate transition to online learning in all possible areas.’

More than 1500 Bristol students test positive for coronavirus
University of Bristol rejects UCU demand to end ‘unnecessary’ in-person teaching

However, Caroline Relton, Chair of the University's COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Group, has said that the spread of coronavirus on campus has been linked ‘almost exclusively’ to accommodation and social behaviours, not teaching spaces.

Some students have also expressed opposition to the extension of on-campus contact hours.

One individual called for in-person teaching to be scrapped, commenting that students might not have returned to university at all had the University not pushed for in-person teaching, given the risk of catching the virus in accommodation blocks.

Featured: Senate House | Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh

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