This week Thomas Polyblank and Myself have written an open letter to the Vice Chancellor opposing “the big move online”. After three years ravaged by strikes, the coronavirus has now caused the university to completely cease face-to-face contact. Though this is necessary given the circumstances, it is not what we paid for. The letter therefore states alternative options that the University may provide. We believe these accommodate for the various circumstances of students, allowing both for immediate graduation and continued learning. So far, the letter has amassed 700 signatures. Below is a small compilation of accounts from students, stating why they have signed, and how the University’s treatment of them is negatively impacting their wellbeing.
Jordi Carter – Drama and Film Studies – Year 2
“I have chosen to add my name to this letter because, as a Drama and Film Studies student, I think that it is appalling that teaching sessions have been missed and are now being moved online. There is such a blatant disparity in the teaching methods in my degree subject compared to a lot of others, and as such I feel that we are hit the hardest. I am hoping that this sheds light on the difficulty that drama students (in particular) in all years have no choice but to face in the next couple of months.”
Léo de Riedmatten – Computer Science and AI – Year 3
“I signed the open letter because I believe that although these are uncertain times and there are obvious extraneous circumstances, the University has failed to live up to their side of the bargain. Throughout the three years of my degree, strikes have affected our ability to cover all the relevant content and meet learning outcomes. For these reasons, I think students deserve to have a say in how we move forward during this unprecedented situation”
Anonymous – An International Student
“The uni’s action has affected me deeply, including the strike action. While I understand the necessity of the strike, the grievances and difficulties of the international students were never taken into account. Some of the students come from Rich families and they support everything but some of us don’t. We have collected money for years to come over and study.
Everything about the UK is expensive; right from the visa, to the living expenses to the conversion rates. We knew some of this but we came all the way only so that we could learn and be capable of doing things on our own. The learning opportunity had been taken away from us during the 6 weeks of the strike first and then due to this… Even during the previous semester one week after the strike got over we had to give our assignments.
It was not fair because we were hardly briefed about how to do them…
Everyone was struggling.
Finding part time jobs is also not easy and if you are involved in one then 20 hours as a Master’s student is too much.
We will not get this guidance, library resources and everything else back home.
All this has been very difficult and no one has addressed our concerns even once instead they simply keep on saying that strike action is necessary.
Yes we know it is needed but we have suffered way too much without anyone addressing our concern.
We deserve a fair compensation for the strike action and also for what is happening now.
All that money was not easy and this was my only chance in educating myself from a good institution.
I can’t afford another course.”
Lizzy Murphy – Philosophy – Year 3
“I signed the letter in hopes that the university will offer compensation for the industrial action and lack of education this term. Despite the university’s effort, students may be forced to return to a home environment which hinders their ability to complete deadlines to the best of their ability. Many students may be without the fundamental resources such as computers, computer programmes, texts and suitable internet access – whilst simultaneously observing the effects of the virus on their community, relatives and loved ones.”
Emma Watson – English and Art History – Year 3
“I’m feeling very conflicted because after devoting the better part of the last 3 years to my degree I obviously wish to complete it and graduate knowing that I have worked hard to earn my degree. At the same time, I feel the call of my community and hear the words of the government when they say they will be needing thousands of volunteers. University students are young and healthy and the chances of us contracting and becoming severely ill with the virus are low. We a prime volunteers. Instead of working on dissertations in unimaginable and unsuitable conditions, we should be mobilising ourselves to the needs of the community. Offering free childcare and assistance to those who need it. But unfortunately it feels hard to do that when the uni are expecting us to complete our dissertation. It just doesn’t seem right.”
Sarika Gandhi – History – Year 2
“I am passionate about the voice of the students at Sussex (after all, they are a huge part of what makes this university so special) and this letter is a reflection of this – a reason why I signed the letter. This letter is a testament to the drive and passion of students at Sussex, striving for the best education for all and to make the most of their learning experience. As a strong advocate of education for all, I believe many students are being placed at a disadvantage. It is necessary for the Vice-Chancellor and university to offer various options to their students. The diversity of educational needs of students differs. We need options which are flexible to meet the needs of individual student situations. More than ever, during this challenging and stressful time; both personally, nationally and educationally.
We are all in undeniable agreement that we are in trying times. As a university and community, it is imperative that we do our best to help one another. We may not be able to bring back weeks of teaching, but we can make the experience NOW better for students at Sussex- this is why I signed the letter.”
Soloman Pace-McCarrick – International Relations – Year 3
“Given the scheduling of my dissertation supervision meetings and the one module I have this term, I will have had exactly 1 contact hour from Week 4 to the end of term. I think most people can agree that no amount of digital content or phone calls with my lecturer can replace this lost time. While I sympathise with the lecturers and university staff who are forced to adapt quickly to this evolving situation, Sussex University has always expected me to perform to the best of my ability yet the conditions of the last term have hardly allowed me to do so.”
Imelda Loakes – English and Philosophy – Year 3
“The open letter currently being circulated concerns all of us at Sussex. This term, we have had a total of only three weeks of undisrupted teaching. For many (including myself) the limited contact hours and learning resources will have caused significant mental strain, especially for those in the final year of their degree. The university has provided little to no genuinely useful support in the face of this crisis. Simply moving teaching ‘online’ does not make up for the significant and detrimental impact that this disruption will have caused for students in all areas of study. This letter will help get our voices heard by those who have the authority to make a positive change to the future and outcome of our education, as it stands.”
Sofia Brough-Aparicio – Philosophy – Year 3
“The scale of (in some cases, life threatening) disruption this pandemic has caused for many students means that the tactic of continuing courses online is inadequate. I’m sure that the university have their reasons, both economically and logistically, for taking this course of action. But these reasons shouldn’t override the quality of life for students – now or in the future that their degrees will decide.”
“As an international student I not only wanted to come to Sussex to get a type one education, I wanted to engage in a vibrant community where I could study in English, socialise in English, and interact in English. Learning in an international community, people have a lot of experiences in work that they can share. This adds a lot to the learning environment, which has been one of the most important parts of my MA. Being able to interact with such a wide network of people has been essential to my enjoyment of my degree, and this cannot be carried on in the same way online. I’ve made many sacrifices to come here… put myself in so much debt to be here. Studying in English and with a diverse group of people made it worthwhile.
Once that element of it no longer accessible in the same way, through online teaching and learning, my degree does not feel valuable in the same way. There is so much available on the internet. The stuff we listen to over Skype and in online lectures are available anyway. What I came to do at Sussex is lost when we move online. To be told it is an adequate replacement… it’s not in anyway the same.
While I understand that ending face-to-face learning is necessary, and support the decision fully, as someone who has already had their teaching online for a couple of days. I can say it is completely different.. the interactions are not the same, you can’t ask the same amount of questions, you have to keep your microphone muted. I can only imagine what that is like for students of music, or drama, or science and physics… It just sounds like a logistical nightmare. While I don’t think there is a one size fits all option for students, like shifting online… I think Sussex needs to be open to listening to what students feel is best for them.
I know it’s not feasible for every postgrad student to postpone face to face interactions cause they have jobs and families, and kids, but for us, we would massively appreciate the consideration that international students who have already had to return home, we haven’t been able to study properly for days. It’s really hard to concentrate, and yet there’s been no talk of postponing deadlines.
At the end of next month I’ve got six assignments to hand in and after that, a ten thousand word dissertation. The pandemic is adding a lot of stress to everyone’s lives and putting strains on relationships, making it even harder to focus on work – the conditions to do well are not the same and that needs to be acknowledged and taken into account in planning how to make teaching work during this difficult time.
IDS closed early, and I consider myself lucky as I’m on a monthly contract. I managed to get home relatively easy. Others have not been so fortunate.
The letter is still open for signatures, and will be formally sent to Adam Tickell on Friday 20th March, as well as other heads of school. Please sign, and share the letter on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.