24 Jun 2020

Victoria Uni faces call for students to be compensated over continued online learning

12:13 pm on 24 June 2020

Another university is coming under pressure to compensate students who are forced to study online.

Victoria University

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The University of Waikato has already opted to deliver its large-format lectures online only next semester, while keeping tutorials, labs and other forms of learning face-to face.

Now, students at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington are being told their studies will be a mixture of digital learning and physical attendance.

It's a disappointment for some students who after an entire first trimester of digital learning, were looking forward to the return of face-to-face teaching.

The university has already faced backlash from their enrolled students, after they were made to pay fees for rooms in their halls of residence during the lockdown.

With the second trimester less than 3 weeks away, some students said they still did not know what to expect when it came to what would be taught online, and what would be digital.

"Me personally, I haven't really been told anything," said third year Psychology and Criminology student Caitlin Tottle.

"I'm quite confused about it, I don't know what the courses are going to be doing next tri[mester], like I know some are going to be online, and some are going to be in person, but I haven't heard anything about [it] from my courses."

Friend Harpreet Kaur was similarly in the dark.

"I'm just listening to all my friends what they're saying," she said. "I'm not sure what we're doing. I think we're all half online, half in person."

Jimmy Williamson, a second year who studies theatre and film, said he was "just a little bit unsure about how things are going to work.

"We've had surveys about whether we would prefer to do online or in class learning, and we just haven't heard back on the results of that."

Frustrations of continuing with online learning

The university said whether teaching would be done in-person or digitally would be determined on a course-by-course basis.

Informatics workshop at university. Rear view of students sitting and listening in lecture hall doing practical tasks on their laptops.

(File image). Photo: 123RF

Yeena Tran, who is studying Criminology and Media Studies, said it was frustrating she could be looking at another term of studying remotely.

"It does annoy me a little bit for sure.

"I'm minoring in marketing, and that's a new topic for me that I have never learnt before, and I've had to do everything online but I would rather have someone teach me physically, and I can just ask them questions, and not wait for them to email me back."

Guidance on the university's website said students had three options for studying: blended learning, online delivery, and mix and match.

The president of the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations, Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, said the vague descriptions only increased confusion.

NZUSA president Isabella Lenihan-Ikin.

NZ Union of Students' Associations president Isabella Lenihan-Ikin. Photo: RNZ/John Gerritsen

"Trying to unpack the language, trying to unpick the ways that our universities are going to be teaching in Semester 2 is incredibly difficult.

"There is no consistent approach either within a university, or across the eight universities. And that is creating immense confusion."

The university said students would be able to attend classes in-person, but did not clarify how many.

First year student Izzy Ford said the decision to keep some teaching online did not feel right.

"The fact that we're not going completely back to normal is a pretty big contradiction if I'm honest.

"Everyone is out living their normal lives, going to parties and stuff like that, but we can't go to our lectures for educational purposes.

"The fact that we're not getting any monetary compensation for that - we're not getting the full experience, we shouldn't be paying the full money."

University urged to 'rethink' online learning decision

Wellington-based National Party MP Nicola Willis said she had been contacted by a number of students angry at the university's actions.

She has written a letter calling for the Vice Chancellor to rethink his decision.

"The university is still receiving full government funding - it is charging these students full fees.

"So I think they have the right to expect the full university offering; there are no public health reasons why face-to-face lectures and tutorials can't take place.

No caption

National Party MP Nicola Willis. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"The university needs to explain its decision, and I would urge it to rethink it."

In a statement to RNZ, the university said their decision was made so they could adapt quickly if the government announced a sudden escalation in Covid-19 alert levels.

The University of Waikato has also been criticised for continuing to provide lectures online.

Isabella Lenihan-Ikin from the Union of Students' Associations said both universities have acted too slowly.

"If they had properly engaged with students and consulted with students and really worked with students to develop their Covid-19 response, both during the lockdown, and now moving into Semester 2, I think that we would have seen a really different story.

"We would have been able to see the benefit and the impact of having student voices involved in those discussions."

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