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Samuel Alexander building

Opinion: UoM is not offering enough support for online learning

In these unprecedented times, university students are quickly having to get used to portions of their degrees being moved online. For some students, including myself, this is a source of frustration and can be incredibly difficult to navigate.

The University of Manchester’s timetabling issues and last-minute changes, which I have experienced on my course, only seem to be making things worse.

And it’s not just me, for English Literature, American Studies and Creative Writing students, this is also the case.

I do not believe there is enough help being offered to those who find it difficult to learn virtually, and even less so for those who cannot afford to.

Heavily essay-based courses, like my History and Politics course, rely on the library, which is currently operating at a reduced capacity, and study facilities are becoming more difficult to access.

So this begs the question: what are we paying £9250 a year for?

The University, in my experience, offers little support. In an email, bosses requested students ensure they have a good internet connection and a working microphone and camera. But it wasn’t until a week after this decision that the university brought attention to their ‘help me get online’ initiative, which offers a laptop loan and WIFI access.

But for many who aren’t eligible for the scheme, the internet in student houses and halls tends to be poor anyway, especially with increased usage.

Many people, I’ve found, do not know where to start when trying to access any kind of support, and financial support offered by the University is not widely advertised.

From my experience, it also comes too late. An instance of this is The Manchester Bursary, which is released in three parts – the first being in December.

Another scheme, the ‘Living Cost Support Fund’, reserves the right to reject any applicant who has ‘non-essential’ expenditure on their bank statements, such as large shopping sprees or any form of gambling. I believe eligibility for such aid is too generalised. In such unique times like we are living through, people’s financial wellbeing cannot be described on paper, nor be judged by such simplistic criteria.

Students, while being blamed for a rise in COVID cases, have increased stresses. During a global pandemic, they must learn to adapt to online learning, and be able to afford the means to do so. Many students must purchase all their own books, amounting hundreds of pounds within the three years of study.

Neither is mental wellbeing a subject of discussion in the conversation around online learning. Many students are being confined to rooms for all areas of study, including lectures, seminars and writing essays. For first years especially, this can be incredibly isolating. Most work areas are difficult to book and will become busier as deadlines approach.

I do not believe the University’s mental health services are advertised enough, and current DASS students, like me, have not been offered clear guidance and help. Online learning is far more complex than it seems, neglecting those who have learning disabilities, those whose mental health cannot afford for them to be indoors continuously, and those who simply cannot fund it.

Online learning does, however, hold some benefits. Those working remotely are not disadvantaged, and it can be accessible in quarantine. We can appreciate the difficult nature of everything going on, and the complete uncertainty in the air.

However, it feels as though the university could be doing more for its students, especially those forced online. An example of this would be more accessible financial aid, an improved and well publicised mental health service, and a better-organised system to transition into online learning. After all, we are paying for these services.

Tags: covid-19, English Literature, financial support, online learning, students

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