On the morning of Thursday 19th April, we held a special question time event in the Hive. Postgraduate Education Officer Madeleine Colledge, Brett Mills of UEA UCU and the Vice Chancellor Professor David Richardson took part in a panel discussion, chaired by Camille Koosyial, taking questions from students about the recent industrial action.
The questions covered three broad themes: financial compensation, academic mitigation and communication.
The first question was from an international student who was concerned about losing out on teaching worth potentially hundreds of pounds, as international students pay higher tuition fees, and asked why the university can't refund students their tuition fees for teaching lost during industrial action.
The VC expressed his upset that some international students are in a situation where their families get into debt by paying for their education. He pointed the specific student to the hardship fund and said that mitigating the effect of the strike on students academic achievement was a priority. With regards to compensation, the VC asked that students wait and see how the strike affects their overall grade and if they are not satisfied, they then make a complaint to the university. He agreed that the burden of paying for higher education falls too heavily on students and should move back towards the state.
Maddie Colledge reiterated the unions' commitment to free education and said that the demands for refunds contribute to a culture where education is seen as a product to be bought and sold. She also commented that some of the 'refund calculators' online are misleading, as the £9,250 a year students' pay in fees contributes to more than just the teaching students received. An Associate Tutor on a rate of £32 an hour, means that a student who had missed an hour of teaching in a class of 10 would receive just £3.20. Paying students could also be perceived as 'paying them off,' which would eradicate the impact of the strike and curb the ability of unions to take action in future. With regards to where staff wages should be spent, she directed students towards our survey, which closes at midnight tonight.
Brett Mills thanked the SU and the students' who had supported staff on the picket and during the strike. He outlined UCU's commitment to free education and their opposition to the higher fees when they were introduced. Brett expressed the opinion that the unpaid wages should go into the student hardship fund.
Many of the questions and comments from the floor concerned the Universities' communication with students and staff during the industrial action. An Associate Tutor raised the issue of the University not docking pay from PhD students who were also Associate Tutors, but docking pay from those AT's who were not PhD students. They felt that this was not only divisive, but had not been communicated clearly, a statement Brett agreed with.
The Vice Chancellor agreed to reflect on the issue and discuss it with his team. With regards to university communication with students, he confirmed that communication with students will be improved. The VC also committed to releasing the minutes from University management meetings.
Maddie Colledge raised the issue of communication with regards to the hardship fund that the VC had mentioned, stating that the fund needed to be more accessible and publicised better so that students in need could access it.
Many of the questions students had submitted were in relation to their academic achievement in the context of the strikes and missed teaching.
The Vice Chancellor said that academic mitigation is a priority and that plans are being put in place to ensure that students' learning outcomes are met. The form that this would take was slightly unclear, and questions were asked about lowered grade boundaries, accredited courses and exams. Students on courses accredited by professional bodies were assured that their degree would have the same value and be held to the same standard as other students from previous years. The VC also outlined the checking procedures for exam papers and committed to having all exams checked to ensure that content that had not been delivered would not appear in papers.
Here are some of the key commitments offered by the University to students in the Q&A:
The Vice Chancellor feels that the University has been able to deliver its product to students, irrespective of the strike and will continue to do so.
All exams will be read to check that they do not contain content that has not been delivered, but the Vice Chancellor has stated that very few will need to be changed.
Some questions were posed regarding missed teaching sessions and the disparity of what is considered as ‘delivered content’ and could therefore be included in exams. Although being a school-specific issue, the University will ensure module-level guidance for students to define what they consider as ‘covered content’. This will allow students to feel secure about what will be included in examinations.
The Vice Chancellor is currently consulting with the SU to ensure student interests are addressed when deciding where to invest money saved during the strike. The current student questionnaire will be analysed in the following weeks to ensure all students, including those who are graduating this year, will be able to benefit from this fund.
There have been discussions regarding a second graduation for students who will be going through resits and who have been affected by the strike or mental health issues exacerbated by the strikes, leading to a delay in completing their degree. The University is currently investigating the possibility of a winter graduation ceremony regardless of strike action.
You can see a livestream of the session on the Postgraduate(su) Facebook page here.