A Welsh student has reacted angrily after she was told she would need to study at home again from September despite a lifting of most coronavirus restrictions in Wales.
Cassie Sutton is currently studying Law and Criminology at Swansea University.
The 22-year-old, originally from Taunton in Somerset, has, like most students, had an unusual university life compared to what she hoped for when she started her course due to the outbreak of coronavirus in her first year of study and the ensuing lockdowns and varying restrictions put in place across Wales and the rest of the UK.
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With restrictions easing, and many education settings hoping to return to something approaching normal for the start of the new term, Cassie was looking forward to the final year of her degree. Until, that is, she was recently told that many of her lectures would still be held remotely, meaning more hours spent in student accommodation learning in front of a laptop, as opposed to alongside her fellow students and in front of her tutors.
Swansea University has defended its plans for the 2021/22 academic year and insisted that there will opportunities in the upcoming term for students to meet each other and interact on a personal level on campus.
But Cassie said: “We all hoped that we would be back to normal for the third year of the course because schools are returning to something like normality. But about a month ago we had an e-mail to say that our main lectures will still be online this coming year. The uni said they hoped they could return to face-to-face lectures at some point, but that was also said last year and it didn’t happen.”
A lot of lectures at Swansea University in the 2021/2022 academic year will still be held online and not in a classroom environment
(Image: Publicity Picture)
Depending on what happens in the coming months – Mark Drakeford has just announced a possible return of some restrictions if Covid rates continue to climb in Wales – it’s possible that Cassie and other students will have completed their university degrees without a single full year of what would be considered as normal university life.
Her first year was disrupted, her second almost totally written off with regards to student life, and now there is the potential for her third and final year to be spent at least partly behind closed doors as well.
“It’s not really the uni experience,” she said. “In the field I want to go into after my studies, a lot of it is about going out to meet people and meet clients, but how can we learn the skills to deal with people if we don’t see anyone face to face? I feel like I won’t be industry-ready because my learning has all been online, but it’s not an online job.
“The uni has said they owe us a duty of care but their duty of care lies with my education, not with my health.”
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Cassie’s mother, Mandy Cooper, is also frustrated at the current situation and believes it is definitely having a detrimental effect on the mental wellbeing of students.
“I work in secondary education and we’ve been doing face-to-face education with students, so I can’t get my head around why Swansea University is saying they have to safeguard the students,” she said. “My concern is for their mental wellbeing – I just don’t understand why they can’t go back to face-to-face learning. My daughter is able to go to a nightclub but she can’t go to a lecture.
“We have to learn to live with Covid and I myself have changed the way I live, but at the end of the day, as someone who works in education, I realise just how important it is to be face-to-face with students. Being taught online just isn’t the same for them. Are they going to carry on with this forever?
“Cassie will be fine I’m sure, but she did say to me the other day that she will not find it easy if she has to do another complete year online. I’m not just saying this to fight for my daughter, but for the other young people out there who are in the same position.”
The Welsh Government has said that “universities are considering their policies and each university will make decisions regarding their assessment based on their individual plans in light of the changing nature of the pandemic.” You can read more about that stance here.
Furthermore, they added: “Universities are responsible for the planning and delivery of their provision, and changes to assessment or assessment criteria is at the discretion of individual institutions as autonomous bodies.”
A spokeswoman for Swansea University said: “In line with the Welsh Government’s infection control framework for higher education, we are planning to introduce a managed approach to learning and teaching for the start of the academic year. Large lectures will be delivered online, however sessions such as practicals, seminars and lab work will be taking place in person.
“The introduction of new digital initiatives since the pandemic have resulted in positive feedback, so we will be keeping new areas of good practice to enhance the learning experience of our students. We are proud of our strong international community, so by ensuring online learning can still take place, those students who are unable to join us due to travel restrictions can be assured of a first-class academic experience.
“While some online learning will be taking place, we will be ensuring that opportunities will be available for students to meet in person, interact with their peers and academic staff, and make new friends. We are working with the Students’ Union to deliver an excellent student experience, with face-to-face events, societies and sports activity and are looking forward to welcoming our students back in September.”
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