NUSU’s stance on the University’s move to Tier 3 for teaching

Updates from your NUSU Officer Team

 

What does Tier 3 mean?

The Department for Education has provided the University with a Tier system which aims to address how Newcastle University must act with regards to the health and safety of both students and staff during the pandemic, reacting to the COVID-19 situation in the local area. Today, the University’s Executive Board along with the regional Public Health England team have decided that there is a need to progress to Tier 3 of the Department for Education’s guidance on delivery of teaching during COVID-19 pandemic. 

The move to Tier 3 means all programmes will be delivered online except where present-in-person sessions are essential to meet programme learning outcomes or satisfy accreditation requirements which cannot be met by online provision. A full list to explain which programmes will remain using present-in-person teaching will be available on the University’s FAQs page by the end of this week and students can contact their academic school to ask how Tier 3 impacts their course if they are unsure. 

The Tier 3 restrictions will be implemented from tomorrow (Thursday 8th October) and will remain for an initial period of three weeks. The decision will be reviewed regularly in line with advice from the Director of Public Health - the first review date will be the 23rd October. The campus will remain open and services, such as the libraries (Phillip Robinson Library, Walton Library and Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms) and the NUSU building, will be available for student use in a COVID-secure environment.

In light of the University’s recent announcement that it is moving to Tier 3 we wanted to outline NUSU’s stance on its expectations of online teaching, support for students, changes to facilities access, and the other repercussions that this decision may have on students. We understand that the decision to move tiers may cause confusion to students but we want  this transition to be communicated as clearly as possible. The Sabbatical Officer team have been involved in many meetings over the summer discussing education policies, adapting campus facilities to meet COVID-secure guidelines, and representing student interests at undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research levels. We will continue to represent students’ interests throughout the academic year, and wish to highlight some of our focuses in relation to the move to Tier 3. 

 

What we want for students - and how we will fight for this 

1. We want the University to have clear standards on the quality of online teaching that students should expect from their academic schools. Students should be able to access high quality online teaching that includes enriching learning activities, including lectures, seminars and office hours. 

We will continue to lobby the University for a high quality educational experience, which adapts with the changing times of the pandemic. We will address concerns for specific academic schools where students feel dissatisfied with the quality of online teaching and seek solutions to ensure the quality of teaching is consistent for all students of all disciplines and stages.

 

2. We want the University to have IT provisions and equipment easily accessible and clearly communicated to students. Currently, many students feel unable to apply for hardship funds for IT provisions; having a cheap Wi-Fi plan that struggles when all the people in your 6-person student house are trying to connect to a Zoom seminar may not feel worthy of a hardship fund, but is still an issue that negatively impacts on the online learning experience. 

We will continue to lobby the University to provide more funding for IT support to ensure students can reliably access their online learning opportunities to a high standard.

 

3. We want the University to provide welfare support for every student that may need it and to a high standard. The move to online teaching will limit students’ interactions with other people and we recognise that this could have a negative impact on the mental health of students and so we want the university to be able to fully support these students during this time. 

We will continue to lobby the University to enhance welfare support by meeting with Wellbeing staff to push forward expanded mental health initiatives and resources. Human interaction needs to be at the heart of this. The University needs to go beyond sending emails with resource links, they need to expand their workforce to cope with the high volume of welfare calls and commit to supporting students through this isolating, stressful time.

 

4. We want academic schools to work with course-related student societies to facilitate course bonding and interaction, particularly as the lack of in-person interaction limits possibilities for students to meet coursemates and make friends outside of their living situations. As well as helping reduce isolation, this would improve the comfort and confidence of students in participating in online discussions, as students are more likely to feel able to share their opinions with peers they feel comfortable with. 

We will work with academic schools to liaise with student societies to help provide online events and activities that students are interested in engaging with. We will also lobby the University to provide academic school staff with more resources to help them provide community development opportunities for their students and encourage students to socialise with their coursemates.

 

5.We want the University to introduce a ‘pay as you stay’ system for student accommodation. A ‘pay as you stay’ system would allow students to leave their halls and not be charged for the time that they decided to not be there. We believe that students should have the option to return home without having to worry about the financial burden that rent, or breaking a rental contact, will cause them. 

As a Students’ Union we will continue to lobby the University to allow students to leave their university-owned student accommodation or have breaks in their tenancy agreements to allow them the flexibility they deserve. We will seek expert housing advice to search for solutions for students renting in the private sector (including private student accommodation, university partnered accommodation and houses of multiple occupancy).

 

6. The move to Tier 3 reflects a rise in cases across the city including amongst the University community. In light of this we want the University to keep providing provisions for students who have tested positive or are self-isolating. We want them to continue providing access to food and medication to fulfil students needs at no financial detriment to the students. We recognise that the University already has these provisions, we want to ensure that the level of support stays uniform and at a good standard for all students as cases and demand rise. 

We will continue our conversations in the relevant working groups that we sit on, including Accommodation Working Group and Quarantine and Self-Isolation Working Group. We will continue to fight for these self-isolation support services to be appropriately maintained throughout the year, without risking being overwhelmed and risking students being left without vital support.

 

7. We want the University to understand that there are many conflicting student perspectives on present-in-person teaching and online teaching. Some students would prefer their course to be available entirely online for the academic year, some value present-in-person teaching and would prefer to see a return to a more blended approach sooner - more students fall somewhere between the two. As an Officer Team, we strive to represent all student views fairly, so we will continue to gather feedback from a range of students on how they feel about teaching. 

We will continue an open line of communication between ourselves, students and the University. We welcome any opinions on online learning and the future return of increased present-in-person teaching, where deemed appropriate and safer. To facilitate this, we are launching a ‘Sabb Suggestion Box’ on the NUSU website where anyone can submit their ideas anonymously to make sure your voice is heard.

 

8. We want the University to ensure that assessment grades are not unfairly affected due to disruptions caused by the move to online teaching. This particularly applies to the courses that may not be able to access necessary labs and studio time, or technology that is only available on University computers. This also extends to books from the library and any other resources that may be difficult to acquire for the completion of the learning and teaching outcomes of the course. 

We as a Students’ Union will continue to lobby the University for a wider range of necessary resources to be made accessible online, including books and software. We will also lobby academic schools to purchase online necessary materials and ensure that they are ready and available for students to use so the burden does not fall on students. We will also continue to lobby the University to establish a specific COVID Disruption PEC form that allows students to outline how their studies have been impacted by COVID-related issues (including illness, IT failure and changes to access to facilities needed to complete necessary assignments and projects).

 

What’s happening with tuition fees? 

We understand and hear the frustrations of the student population with regards to the tuition fees and debt being accumulated for the 2020-2021 academic year. This is a wider Governmental issue on the subject of access and the equitable nature of the higher education system in the UK. As a Sabbatical Officer team we want to give the space for this discussion and we need to have the appropriate time to gather student opinion and research into the possible avenues which we can take forward as a team. 
 
Our Education Officer, Sian Dickie, has written a letter to Chi Onwurah MP on this issue, and hopes to bring forward a wider discussion on this at the highest University levels. However, it must be understood that the fees situation is hugely complex, with students financing their studies in different ways, including the differences between home and international student fees which complicates the matter further. 

We have requested an update from the University on how they are spending your fees during the coronavirus pandemic and will be endeavouring to update you further on any actions that occur in the upcoming weeks on this issue. For information please see how the University fee expenditure breakdown occurred last year here. Please know that we are working extremely hard on collating the correct information to notify you on this issue and to provide greater transparency. We are working alongside the University to raise this and the above concerns in the appropriate manner. 

 

What do you think? 

Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what the Sabbatical Officer team should be fighting for in relation to the Tier 3 statement? We have created this feedback form so that you can suggest anything to ensure we are fighting for what you think is a priority. 

 

As always, if you have any questions or comments please don't hesitate to get in touch with any of us. Take care and stay safe.

NUSU Sabbatical Officer Team 2020/21

 

 
 
 

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