2020 has been a year like no other year for many, if not all of us, but particularly challenging for our student population.
At a recent meeting of the SCiP Alliance Scotland Hub, members from colleges and universities shared how the pandemic was having an impact on their students.
Although establishments had anticipated a drop in overseas student numbers this has not materialized to quite the same levels as first thought, although most of the teaching and learning is taking place digitally. A number of countries still have travel restrictions in place which mean students are remaining in their own countries and accessing their learning online. Likewise there was an initial fear that there could be significant numbers of deferred entries but again this has not happened to any great extent.
Most universities in Scotland have moved, where possible, to a system of blended learning which combines both online and in person engagement. This does depend on the individual courses as some areas, particularly in the health-related fields, require in person training for at least part of their course. All universities are working hard to manage this safely and securely, observing social distancing and offering flexibility to students who need to isolate or remain at home.
The main issues highlighted included:
- Digital poverty – many students reported having to share computer equipment and for some of the time this was not a problem. However, when assessments were due it was indeed a huge problem for some. Others have no access to suitable equipment and/or a stable internet connection. Universities and colleges have been allocated a fund by the Scottish government to support students through a laptop loan scheme.
- Isolation was also a major concern and one which was having a negative impact on students’ mental health.
- Blended learning was presenting mixed blessings with some students preferring this method and reporting that they felt more comfortable contributing to discussions in an anonymous way while others struggled with the lack of face to face contact.
- There was some concern that students who had gained entry with grades which they may not in other years have gained through examination may struggle with the demands of university courses – retention of these students may be a concern for the future.
In addition to the impact on students there has been a significant impact on college and university staff.
- Many staff have had to recreate new course materials from scratch and learn new skills and techniques incredibly quickly to facilitate online learning.
- For many staff, delivering courses online has been a steep learning curve and they have had to find different ways of keeping students engaged and motivated.
- The individual circumstances of staff have differed from those living on their own feeling isolated from colleagues to staff working from home balancing family commitments and work demands.
Moira Leslie, Education Programme Manager.