University of Edinburgh students hit back at 'negligent' institution

A formal letter of complaint has been sent to the University of Edinburgh by a cohort of undergraduate and postgraduate students seeking financial reimbursement and a promise that more consideration will be given to its students.

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 12:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 7:14 pm
A student wearing a protective face mask outside the main library at the University of Edinburgh in George Square, Edinburgh. Picture: PA
A student wearing a protective face mask outside the main library at the University of Edinburgh in George Square, Edinburgh. Picture: PA

Students at the university have taken formal steps to try to save their academic year in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, with claims the pandemic has dramatically changed the way learning is delivered, without being reflected in the costs students are expected to pay.

The open letter of complaint addresses the existing situation and says the students support and agree with the need for online learning, but feel cheated by the lack of effort that has gone into the new digital style of teaching.

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The letter begins: “We chose this institution expecting a quality of education that would live up to its strong reputation. However, we have found the university to be thus far negligent in its transparency, communication, and delivery of education.”

Students were promised a “collaborative learning experience”, the letter said, but have found going into their second week of lectures that educational content, including audio and video lectures, have been recycled and have seen a distinct lack of “tutorials, seminars, and live interactions between peers and professors”.

Despite all of these changes, students have not been offered a reduction on their tuition fees and find themselves accumulating the same amount of debt that a normal, in-person academic year at The University of Edinburgh would incur.

The letter includes six demands for the university to address, with the first specifying that students must be able to apply for a partial reimbursement of their fees on a course-dependent basis “corresponding to the impact and disruption to their learning experience i.e., what students were promised vs. what they received”.

The list adds:

- “Lectures and seminars, if online, should meet the same level of contact hours as advertised on the Degree Programme Table”;

- “The deadline for fee payments should be delayed by 30 days”;

- “On-site Covid-19 testing must be made readily available with adequate capacity for all university staff and students”;

- “No more automated reply emails”;

- “All students and faculty staying in university accommodations must be given free access to the existing higher bandwidth, which is currently behind a paywall”.

The students go on to write they were promised their degrees would retain their value despite these exceptional circumstances.

They say: “The number of courses on offer has been reduced, and class sizes expanded beyond advertised numbers. This has created overcrowded online classrooms, overworked professors, and a lower quality of education.

"To solve these urgent and serious problems, University of Edinburgh offered nothing more than online ‘town hall meetings’, which did not acknowledge our request for tuition discounts.”

The open letter was sent to University Principal Colm Harmon and the Vice Principal Students, Dr Tina Harrison, along with the Heads of College, Heads of School and the Assistant Principal for Academic Standards and Quality Assurance.

Professor Colm Harmon, Vice Principal Students at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Academic and support staff have been working throughout the summer to ensure our students continue to receive the world-class education that they expect from the University of Edinburgh.

"Students will receive a hybrid learning experience, in line with Scottish Government guidance, where some in-person teaching will happen where possible and safe to do so on campus.

"Lectures are digital, and smaller class teaching is the focus of our in-person lessons.

“We are delivering more than 95,000 hours of teaching this semester and more than 35,000 hours of these are scheduled to be on campus.

"Our libraries and other study facilities are open, and we have created new spaces for students to meet and interact during this challenging year.

"We have also introduced new courses to help our students adjust to this new way of learning, as well as providing extra technical support.

“We know that this is a year like no other, but we want to reassure our students that a degree from Edinburgh will be as valuable as it has been for more than 400 years.”

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