To all UCL Students,
This year has been harder than anyone could have imagined. The pandemic is still affecting all of us in more ways than we could have ever foreseen, and our education in its current form doesn’t support a healthy learning environment. Although UCL as a whole has adapted quickly and acted accordingly to the ever-developing climate and guidance, it is clear that the challenges of this academic year persist and are burdensome on the entire UCL student body.
For so many of you, you never made it to London in term one. You never had the chance to take part in face-to-face teaching; the campus feels empty without you.
We understand the issues that all our students are facing in this period; students who are striving to achieve their learning objectives and professional development in a constantly changing and increasingly difficult world. We want to highlight our academic reps who, like us, have been committed to ensuring that this academic year is still a viable and valuable one. Also, we are deeply grateful to every person who signed a petition, made your voice heard, and shared feedback on your struggle this year. These are concrete bits of evidence that support our lobbying efforts as we work to nudge UCL in the right direction every day. Our collective action works.
Over the past 10 months, right from when it was clear the pandemic was going to significantly disrupt this academic year, we worked to ensure that changes made have our students’ best interest at the core, making sure you have the best learning experience that’s possible in these circumstances. We worked together with UCL to develop a ‘Temporary Operating Model’ for Term One. This plan aimed to reduce some of the impact of the pandemic on the learning environment, anticipating increased face-to-face activity from January, and meant that UCL could confidently say that there would be no compromise on the academic standards you’ve come to expect.
We knew that this Temporary Operating Model would not be sufficient for every student in every circumstance, but we felt that that local and individual issues would be best addressed through personalised solutions - for instance, the self-certified extenuating circumstances procedures, Statements of Reasonable Adjustments (SORAs), assessment adjustments, etc.
However, as the year progressed and with the pandemic in the UK since September only getting worse, it is clear that the Temporary Operating Model, especially when extended over a majority of the academic year, does not go far enough. It fails to provide a satisfactory academic environment for the majority of students. It is no longer an environment in which students feel confident in their ability to perform optimally in their learning and assessments, and the online platforms we rely on are not beneficial for a healthy learning environment. Our ability to engage in practical and collaborative learning opportunities and develop into complete and well-rounded graduates has been compromised, not to mention the ways in which it has gravely affected student mental health and wellbeing. These negative impacts have lasted well beyond any of us could have imagined. It is time for UCL to do more.
Accordingly, we are actively working with UCL on the design of the safety net and additional academic mitigation, just as we did in the previous academic year. Our first step in this direction is through our attendance at an emergency meeting of UCL’s Education Committee tomorrow (Friday). We anticipate that at this meeting, the Examinations and Assessments Contingency Panel will be re-established. This panel is the group through which last year we contributed significantly to the design of the previous no-detriment policy, proposing substantial changes to the initial suggestions which made the last assessment period less burdensome on students. We are committed to ensuring that in a similar manner, in this coming assessment period, fair and reasonable mitigations are implemented to address all the issues you have faced.
We expect that the conclusions reached at this meeting, and subsequent meetings, will be communicated to the wider student body promptly, and we will be there to explain and advise you on what this means for your circumstances.
It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway - the work of academic staff to respond and adapt to the constantly changing environment this year has been nothing short of incredible and we thank you. However more needs to be done this year. We are committed to ensuring that it is. There are numerous concerns around the design of a safety net that will need to be accounted for - the impact on student mental health and wellbeing, the impact on grade inflation, and the academic integrity and prestige of a UCL degree, to list a few. These are all concerns that we are aware of and constantly balancing. These concerns affect students directly and indirectly, both now whilst enrolled and in the future when entering the job market. Ultimately, we will ensure that the student perspective is centered in conversations being had and drives all decision making at UCL.
Tuition Fees and Value For Money
Your experience this year is nowhere near the same experience as students in previous years - yet the fees are the same. Despite the campus being as open as safely possible, access to facilities are not the same. Despite the increased investment in online platforms, professional networking opportunities are not as available as they once were. Despite innovative approaches from faculties and departments, lab experience and other practical learning opportunities this year are incomparable to previous years. This is the case across the UK.
It is crucial that we continue to push UCL to increase their provisions this year, in innovative ways that are safe, legal, and appropriate considering the ever-changing global situation. And we will also continue our national campaign to push for a governmental response regarding tuition fee refunds. This is something the UK Government must address for all students at UK universities. Individual complaints made directly to institutions may result in individual outcomes - but we need something that works collectively for all.
Therefore, a national level is the most appropriate landscape to push for refunds. This is a strategic decision. We are spearheading national action, collaborating with other Students’ Unions across the country, and ramping up our lobbying efforts to the Government and its Department for Education. We are hopeful for a prompt and promising response.
We will keep the student body in the loop about how this develops. In the meantime, it will be helpful to our efforts, and all the efforts of the student body, if you sign this and continue with all your independent efforts as well. They are crucial.
Keep an eye on your emails for updates from Ayman, Carol, and Jim; and if you have further questions, feel free to contact us at any time. You can also check our website to remain up to date on what we are doing to ensure our learning environment is still viable and valuable despite the world we live in right now.
We know that this year has been difficult for everyone. The first few days of 2021 already feel like March 2020. We know that you are working hard, and amongst all the national uncertainty, we hope that at least, you are reassured that we are determined to ensure that everything at UCL is designed to make it a place where you can truly succeed. Stay safe and stay healthy.
The Sabbatical Officer Team