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Student Voice Forum

November 2020

Student Voice Forum is an opportunity for any student at the University to share feedback and ask questions directly to the senior staff at the very top of the University who can make a real difference. The Forums happen around 3-4 times each year. On this page, we've included responses from the University to each of the questions answered in the Forum, and we'll update it with further updates when these are provided.

The November Student Voice Forum focussed on hybrid education and the arrangements for the Christmas holiday.  University panelists were Professor Michael Kearney, Professor Osama Khan, Andy Chalklin and Lucy Evans.  (Each member of the panel is referred to by their initials).  Professor Graham Miller joined the meeting to discuss sustainability.

Unless otherwise stated, the content below was reported by University staff; it does not necessarily reflect a view of the Students' Union. 

Hybrid Learning in Semester 2

At the Forum, we were told that the University have worked very hard to produce the highest possible quality education and adjust to the new style of hybrid learning. There key principles are that lectures will be prerecorded into bite sized lectures, guided learning will be provided and all face to face teaching will be delivered in a covid secure manner. All exams/ assessments will be conducted online in January. The hybrid model will be continued into semester 2. 

Why is hybrid education being continued and not switching to fully online learning?

OK highlighted the key importance of face to face interactions, which are crucial for a good educational experience. Therefore, it is felt that engagement should be promoted face to face where possible. However, if someone does have extenuating circumstances then there should be a method for wholly online learning if needed. However, hybrid means that we could move to online if we do absolutely have to, however this is not the University's favoured method of teaching.

OK: We are currently refreshing our strategies and we would like to look at if this would be something we would like to continue. 10 workshops have taken place which have been open to all students on this topic. The Union President and a member of the university team (Naomi Winston) will be reviewing Hybrid learning and its effectiveness.

The safety net policy

OK: The safety net policy which was used during the first lockdown was purely due to the fact that the new educational climate was not expected, and teaching being fully online was not planned. Therefore, the quality of education could not be guaranteed, and it was felt a safety net policy was necessary, as it was difficult to know what the impact of rapid change could be on students' education. However, this academic year has been well planned, knowing the circumstances we face, and therefore a safety net policy is not necessary. Of course, if there is a prolonged period of lockdown with complete disruption to learning is felt then a safety net policy will not be ruled out.

OK: The severity of pandemic will need to be assessed on an ongoing basis. Students were reminded that we cannot use grades from previous years as part of a safety net and therefore, it is not possible to generate a safety net based on previous year's results, so this needs to be taken into account.

Should commuting students still travel to campus if they need public transport?

OK: Travel for education is still allowed and we have been asked to continue to deliver our face to face education. Therefore, we do still encourage students to travel to campus as long as this is done safely and in a Covid safe manner. However, if a student is finding this very difficult and it is impacting their wellbeing they can get in contact with wellbeing and advice services.

For students who have missed out on a PTY, are there any plans to allow a student to do it after their final year?

GM: If a student has progressed to their final year then it would not normally make sense for a student to take on a PTY. However, the careers team can help them with harnessing their employability and they can gain extra support on securing a job as a graduate. They can also continue to support you even after graduation. We would encourage everyone to engage with the careers team this year to help with any employability issues due to a lack of PTY.

Will assignments be less harshly marked?

OK: All assessments are marked with the same rigor. If you feel that you have not been given  enough support, then that should be addressed separately. The rigor of marking needs to always be the same to ensure consistency and ensure the value of the degree is maintained.

Could semester 2 have online exams or could there be any in person exams?

OK: Exams will always be online for the rest of the academic year, and we will guarantee this in order to ensure some continuity and security for you.

Will there be more live streamed lectures in Semester 2?

OK: the proportion will not change from semester 1. Only tutorials and labs will be face to face or live. However, if any program feels that the release of a video lecture would be useful that can be requested by the module leader.

Will there be more face-to-face sessions after March if things improve?

Ok: No this will not happen, because plans for semester 2 will already be in place, or it is at least highly unlikely, and we would not want to promise something we cannot deliver.

When will the Semester 2 timetable be released?

LE: 4 weeks before the semester- 11th January  

Will Covid-19 mean a reduction in tuition fees?

OK: Fees will not be affected as we believe that the quality of education has not been affected de to our extensive planning. This is also reflected in Government guidance to all Universities nationally.

GM: The work that University staff are doing has more than doubled in order to deliver hybrid education, and we can promise that staff are doing all they can to ensure that the students are gaining the best possible education.

What are the plans for graduations?

LE: We are really hoping that we can achieve a physical covid secure graduation, but we cannot guarantee that we can as we are still restricted by government guidelines. We will try our best to deliver whatever we can and we will do something to celebrate even if not the traditional one. It will be as exciting as possible and we will try and do a big celebration when we can. Ideas from students are encouraged.

ACTION: TD to gather ideas from students regarding graduations and what can be done if physical ceremonies are not possible. TD to pass these ideas onto LE.

What are the guidelines for assessment timelines and MCQ exams?

OK: The principles are they must be delivered online and not in person. When it comes to exams, the guidance is the first preference is for the exam to be converted to coursework or to be written as an open book exam to be taken at home. However, for some modules the exam can be timed within 24 hours (such as 2 hour time limit from when starting) or the exam will need to be done at an exact time, not within a 24 hour period. It is up to lecturer discretion which of these systems is necessary in order to for the exam to meet academic standards.

What extra support will be made available for January exams?

OK: I will take this away and work on this, as this is clearly a very crucial point.

ACTION: OK to develop more support for students during the January exam period, including how to revise and plan for exams at home.

Can I stay in my home country the whole semester?

LE: We do not encourage this at all, and face to face teaching is the best possible opportunity for your degree outcome. This will continue to be the case for semester 2 so please do return to campus.

Can students repick their options now hybrid learning is confirmed for semester 2?

LE: at the start of every term there is an option to change their module but this may be limited due to the arrangements for hybrid learning, students should contact their departments.

With student satisfaction becoming lower what are you doing?

OK: We have developed an 85 plan which is a comprehensive plan to ensure that student satisfaction will improve. We are trying to create e sense of belonging in the university and create e a much stronger community within Surrey, even during lockdown. We are also focusing on assessment and feedback and ensuring that all aspects of this area are clearer. Finally, we are really pushing for genuine pride in educational and teaching. We want academics at Surrey to be proud of the opportunity to teach students, give a transformative education and build your careers.

Students on campus over Christmas

At the Forum, we were told that the University want to recognise that there is currently a lot of discussion about students returning home for Christmas, but understand this is not possible for everyone. Every year, they said, we want to make sure students know surrey is their home and they are most welcome over the vacation period. We will be sharing more over the next few weeks, but we do want to make the campus look a lot better and brighter, with festive lights etc. Furthermore, we want to make sure that all support services are available over the break, including wardens, peer supporters, the Students’ Union the MySurrey Hive. We would like to do a lunch of some description, even if a grab and go as was done for Diwali. However, this is subject to restrictions as always. The faith chaplains will be handing out hot drinks and mince pies throughout this period. The Covid support team will also be working throughout Christmas.  

As student are going home and being tested, will they need to get a test when returning?

LE: We are not sure as this will come down to what the government guidelines say. We do not know at this time, but it may be something that is necessary. We will support students if this is necessary.

When will details on coming home be released?

AC: The University published its guidance to students on this within 24hours of the government announcement.

What support will be provided for students that stay at home after Christmas?

LE: These students are recognized and whilst we do encourage all students to stay on campus where possible, if they are not able to return in person we will support the as much as possible through online support. This support is different and that cannot be denied, however if it has been agreed that in this exceptional circumstance that they do not need to return to campus then we will support them where they can.

Will students be supported in isolation if they return after Christmas?

LE: Absolutely. There will be certain programs that will need more support than others such as health sciences and GSA. However, everyone will be given support in accessing lectures online.

OK: Any students who are granted EC's for late arrivals or travel we will always support them with online tutorials. However, they may need to engage with a different learning style if they are engaging in a course with specific requirements.

Will temporary bubbles be allowed over lockdown with other households?

AC: Not unless government guidance on this changes, no.

Are there any exceptions to returning to home before the 9th?

AC: All the exemptions are under the FAQ's in My Surrey

What happens if I test positive and my travel plans are impacted?

AC: Testing will start early, and we hope this will mitigate any issues with this. Do get in touch if you have any worries though.

Can flood lights on the rugby pitch be turned on?

AC: I will investigate if this is possible.

LE: We are aware that exercise is very important so we will continue to look at other ways we can help you exercise in halls, so do get in touch with your wardens.

ACTION: AC to investigate rugby pitches being flood lit to allow for sport outside to take place.

What will do about drop in with buddies over Xmas?

LE: We are going to make sure that there are additional supports during this period, even if through staff who work in residences.

Will student returns be staggered?

LE: Yes we will be looking at this and this is currently something we would like to do. For example, health science will be due to start earlier and they will be brought back earlier. More communication about this will be out in the next seven days. Although this is down to government guidance and as such could be subject to change.

It has been broadly reported that mental health of students has declined in Covid, what more support will be offered?

LE: We completely understand the difficulties that this is taking on everyone's wellbeing. We are working with all areas of the University support teams to encourage everyone to reach out for support at this time. We have been running extra workshops, classes and groups to facilitate this. Please do look at all the services available because we do want to help no matter what the problem is, we need to help everyone at this horrible time.

Sustainability

At the Forum, we were told that the University have several groups with members across the university including students which focus on improving sustainability. GM spoke as the chair of the Sustainability Board, and explained that he is most proud of the University's commitment to be net carbon neutral by 2030, which is a decade ahead of the government commitment and at the time of the commitment we were only the second university to do so. This means the University need to work back to a series of actions, shifting to renewal energy across the whole campus, including a solar farm. The University will also focus on behaviour change, accommodation energy usage, recycling materials and eating less meat. The University must also put sustainability at the heart of the campus including education and make it a part of the curriculum. We hope all students will be able to understand what a sustainable literate citizen is and this will become a part of the knowledge of all of our graduates.

 What are the University's plans to divest from fossils fuels?

GM: We do not invest in any fossil fuels currently, and have not since 2015. However, we do need to ensure this continues in the future to be the case.

What are the University's plans to divest from Barclays Bank?

GM: increasingly this is conversation we are having but this isn't the top of our agenda at the moment. However, this is a growing conversation and the more we talk about this openly the better the situation, and I will encourage these sorts of conversations.

Are there any plans do have more recyclable toilet paper?

GM: We do need to look at our wider supply chain for procurement and currently value for money is our priority. However, we would like to look at working with suppliers to improve the sustainability of the products they sell to better improve our sustainability. We are hoping to bring in a procurement sustainability policy.

With regards to energy consumption in accommodation- kitchen lights are on all the time - can this be changed? 

GM: Light switches should be there but we will look at this with AC

Was it the universities goal to provide sanitiser hand gel for all accommodation blocks? Would I need to speak to wardens or accommodation staff to supply sanitizer for my building?

Following a full Covid risk assessment for university residences hand sanitiser dispensers were provided on the approach to every accommodation block on campus (which is in place); all students in university residences have ready access to hand washing facilities either en suite or in shared bathrooms. Where provided, hand sanitizer stations are checked daily and replenished as required, however any problems with empty sanitizer stations should be reported to housekeeping (housekeeping@surrey.ac.uk).  Soap and a personal towel is provided in a limited number of residences which have shared bathroom space, for example Hazel Farm and in some facilities on the Stag Hill campus.

Why are there no light switches in some student accommodation?  Surely now that accommodation is being used so much more than before, this is not good for sustainability?

We are aware of this for particular accommodation blocks and are working with estates to make these changes.

There are some heaters in accommodation that cannot be turned off.

We would need additional information on location of the heater/heating that does not turn off to resolve. We can then investigate and correct any heating issues that are not working correctly.  Students should report faults to the EFCS helpdesk for action.


Accommodation 

The kitchen is only cleaned once a week, can this be cleaned more frequently?

This is being followed-up outside of the meeting.

Can we cancel accommodation if we wish to no longer live in accommodation?

If someone would like to move due to their location then we would encourage students to contact accommodation about being moved. This would only not be possible if their household need to isolate but we can move them after lockdown.

Will rents be reduced this year?

No, the University has no plans to do this. 

Now that students study full-time in their rooms, can more comfortable chairs be provided?

This is currently being investigated by the University's Chief Operations Officer.

As most students are going home, if only one or two people are left in a residence, can they make a temporary bubble with others, so they aren't on their own?

According to latest government guidance (as at 27/11/20) from 2 December you can form a support bubble with another household if you are the only adult in your household.

If we get tested positive for the asymptomatic testing, and our flight back home (in my case is in Europe) is during the (14 day?) isolation period, would there be any support by the university to help us get back?

If you test positive and are required to self-isolate, you will need to change your travel plans. If that means you need to stay in your residence on campus we will be providing services and activities throughout the winter break.

In the situation that me or one of my housemates test positive to the test, are the other people that were tested negative still able to go back home?

If you test negative but are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, you can return home but must continue self-isolation at home for a period of 14 days, using private transport wherever possible.

In the previous years an opportunity was given to cancel student accommodation contract for 2nd semester without being subject to fees. The deadline to do that used to be around 5-7 December. Does this option still exist?

This option still exists, it is on the website and also in the residence guide. The date they would terminate contract is the 31st January 2020, they have to let us know by the 4th Dec, but this allows a few days flexibility for them to let us know.

Is there a way that motorcycles are not allowed to come into the student village to avoid excess noise, especially at night?

We appreciate that this may be an issue. The fact we use bollards instead of barriers means we can only stop 4 wheeled vehicles accessing the sites.

We are looking to create a designated drop off point for things like this / Tesco's van deliveries in a specific area where we could manage the noise.

Can a shelter (temporary or otherwise) be put over the queue to central distribution?

There is limited space to erect a shelter outside central distribution and the routes need to be kept clear for deliveries. However this has been looked into by our Maintenance team. We are also looking at umbrellas as a temp solution. This will be resolved as part of Phase 2 of the Central Distribution project which is currently being planned, subject to funding and prioritisation.

Is the University looking at the food it produces in its catering departments to ensure it can be more sustainable?

We are continually reviewing our food offering on campus and seek to reduce the carbon impact of the food we offer. We have significantly increased the volume and range of non-meat options for catering on campus.

Can we have lockers provided for motorcycle riders?

Due to the pandemic all lockers are not currently are available. We plan to change that mid-December, but not specifically for motorcyclists. 


Covid Testing

How do we get home from our test if we have tested covid positive?

Please just head straight home as quickly and safely as possible.

What testing is available to students?

The testing will start from the 30th of November for those are non-symptomatic.

If a student requires testing due to showing symptoms then they should contact the NHS to arrange a test straight away and follow guidelines.

If teaching has finished early can we be tested at a different time?

All tests can be booked online and if you want to book earlier you will need to email and they will see what they can do to support this.

Many of us are being asked to do a Covid test before flying back home. Is the test the university provides accepted? If not, where can we go to have the test?

The University has published an answer to this in its most recent bulletin, but students will need the PCR test to get on an international flight in most cases, sources for these tests can be found online

Are there any plans to help international students come home, most of us need the molecular tests that cost 150-200 pounds in order to be able to go home. Some countries also have a 72-hour time allowed between the results and the flight. Is there any way the university would be able to help with that?

We do not have any specific fund for this. As always, if a student is facing financial difficulties they should contact the Student Money team via MySurrey Hive/ hive@surrey.ac.uk

There has been no information provided for students already living at home, should they be having asymptomatic tests as well?

They do not have to but if they are living at home in Guildford they would be welcome to have a test

I have seen about the advice regarding free testing for asymptomatic students on campus however what about placement students? Many of these students are still living as students, many in house shares. The issue of returning how is still very much an issue. How will these students be supported?

Placement students can sign up to the asymptomatic testing at Surrey

if you're an essential worker in another borough i.e. in London- do we prioritise going into work or attending learning as we have been asked not to leave Guildford?

In lockdown we are permitted to travel for reasons of education and as key workers. I would assume that your balance of attending teaching and work can be achieved.

If one of my flatmates tests positive for coronavirus but I have a test and it turns out to be negative do I still have to self-isolate?

If your test is negative, you must still complete your 14-day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet – this is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus


Employability

The virtual placement fair has not been very effective, will we get any alternatives?

GM: I am sorry to hear you haven't felt its been very useful. However, I would urge you to get in touch with the employability team and they will be able to offer to one to one support if you are struggling. There are other sessions also being held this year and we would encourage you to look at these.


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