The Student
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Open letter to University faculty signed by thousands
by Lucy Saddler, 18/10/20

An open letter, written by a working group of undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Edinburgh, has been signed by over 1,300 students in under 24 hours.

The letter is a formal complaint addressed to the University’s authorities, such as Principal Peter Mathieson and Vice- Principal Students Colm Harmon, and it refers to the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consequences this has had on students’ learning experience and wellbeing.

Postgraduate student Camilla was interviewed by The Student as spokesperson for the working group, explaining how the formal complaint started: “I posted something negative about how courses were being run on my Facebook, and it was like a bomb exploded.

“I received dozens of replies from overwhelmed students. What once was a silent majority [a lot] of people now wanted to organise something to raise their voices. And so, we did.”

Whilst acknowledging that current circumstances necessitated the move to online teaching, the working group asserts that “students should not be put in a position of accruing debt for an education far below the quality standards of a typical year at the University of Edinburgh”.

They state that other higher education institutions have invested in the “creation and maintenance of appropriate online teaching environments for those who wish to remain home.

“The University of Edinburgh is failing its students in these respects.

“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.”

Becca, an international postgraduate student in the working group, says: “It’s definitely been a rough start to the academic year.

“I think I can speak for most of the student body when I say that we are struggling with the absurdity of an online education that costs a fortune.”

The letter makes six demands, asking the university to allow students to apply for a partial reimbursement of their fees according to the impact and disruption to their learning experience.

They further demand the reduction of semester two fees “if our education quality does not increase”.

The students go on to ask for increased contact hours, an extension to fee payment deadlines so that students can make an informed decision about whether or not to continue their studies, and free access to higher bandwidth Wi- Fi for all students in University accommodation.

The letter urges the university to make on-site COVID- 19 testing “available with adequate capacity for all university staff and students”.

Their request comes as the university grapples with a large COVID-19 outbreak among students.

So far, the university has registered over 324 positive cases.

On 29 September, Student Association Sabbatical Officers sent an open letter to the University which made similar demands.

On 7 October, the Sabbatical Officers updated students as to the university’s response.

The university has agreed to waive the usual 28 day-notice period for students who want to end their tenancy in a University accommodation.

The university has also said that they will not offer a rent rebate like the one given to University of Glasgow students.

On 7 October, maintenance took place on Wi-Fi networks across all student accommodation sites and the university has already distributed 3000 ethernet cables to help improve connection.

Amidst criticisms about the university’s treatment of students self-isolating in their accommodations, the university has committed to improving the quality of food provisions to student accommodation residents.

The university has given all student accommodation residents a £50 voucher.

On 2 October, the university introduced microwaveable meals and soon, there will be weekly meal box deliveries providing students with more choices over what they eat.

Image: University of Edinburgh Coat of Arms via Wikipedia