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To Jo Grady and the UCU

I wonder how you can keep a straight face when you say that UK universities ‘stand ready to support students with high-quality remote learning‘. I don’t know what your classes are like – I’m sure you work hard to make them the best they can be. But no amount of tinkering can change the decidedly low quality of online learning – ask a student instead of relying on navel-gazing amongst colleagues, and you’ll soon discover how impossibly demotivating it is to be educated in front of a laptop – most likely in the same room that you sleep, staring for hours at the same screen you watch Netflix, sat on a chair half a metre from your bed. Less than half even attend most of my zoom classes.

I’m sure working from home is fine if you’re a lecturer with a big house somewhere quiet – but as a student living in halls, ‘high quality’ would be the last description I’d choose. The result is well-intentioned students are learning very little. 

And aside from some wishy-washy emails about wellbeing and a delivery of slightly rancid quarantine food, I reckon people have felt more ‘support’ from a broken parachute chord.  

I wonder, how on the one hand you claim to have students’ interests at heart, whilst on the other you argue with enthusiasm that we ought to be spending more time in our rooms, more time gazing at our screens, and more time isolated. Platitudes made about our mental health are meaningless when you seek to deny students the exact things that constitute this.  

You’ve claimed students are asking to ‘move online now’, something I can only assume you pulled from the darker confines of your imagination and a few scattered anecdotes. How you can claim to speak for students is beyond me – most students haven’t heard of you, and those that have feel negatively due to months of disruption caused by your strikes last year – indeed, in terms of out-of-touchness with students, the UCU nearly rivals the NUS.

There is zero support amongst students for your proposals – we want the education that we’re paying for. If I compiled a list of students’ most pressing health concerns, COVID 19 wouldn’t make the top 50. Tragically, 11 students have committed suicide in the first semester – that’s 11 more than have died from COVID 19. Many more report worsening mental health – and in less pathological terms, feelings of hopelessness. If less time was spent pontificating on how best to restrain us, and more on supporting universities as a space for young adults to build on their fledgling independence, students’ mental health would not be in this dire situation.

I’m well aware that you’d have rather students’ hadn’t turned up to halls in the first place, although were this to have happened it would have created an unforeseen financial black hole for universities resulting in the loss of thousands of academics’ jobs – at the behest of their union.

Your grievances about face-to-face teaching are a near-total confection regardless, as most courses are already entirely online. Speaking personally, the last classroom I saw was in my secondary school – but no, I shouldn’t question your disgust at even the suggestion of a possibility of being in the same room as students. And in the few universities who’ve taken the braver approach of offering some semblance of normality, even the merest hint of becoming ‘just like the care homes‘ is absent. It was a crass and offensive comparison that you ought to have retracted, but if you really are so keen to use students’ (lack of) education as a stick to beat the Tories, then more power to you.

I’m also struck that you seem to think academics ought to have exceptional protections compared to other workers. What exactly about lecturers is so special that they can’t be in their workplaces – is it because they’re more educated? More middle class? Many current students, myself included, were key workers throughout the first wave, in supermarkets or delivery jobs, putting food and other products on the tables of those in middle class occupations lucky enough to work from home. We knowingly put ourselves at (sparingly slight) risk. Workers in areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare went to work throughout the peak of the pandemic with no suggestion that their workplaces were about to become like care homes. We braved it out. Lecturers ought to put aside their extraordinary preciousness and provide students with the education we’ve worked for. 

I would hazard, Dr Jo, that unless you live a subsistence lifestyle, you rely on the the services of such workers for your food, deliveries and health. It’s a shame that students couldn’t rely on you.

Even if not for students’ sake, perhaps purely selfish motivations could convince you to teach in-person? Online teaching isn’t only devaluing the education of students – it devalues the work of lecturers and teachers such as yourself, and those that you’re tasked to represent as union head. It would be woefully naive to think that universities won’t cotton on to the cost-effectiveness of pre-recorded teaching – as such services can be replicated year to year, or even between institutions, cash strapped universities will choose to make sweeping savings on academic staff by continuing with this format after the pandemic. The sky-high drop out rate we are sure to see this academic year would alone create such financial need – you let pre-recorded lectures become the norm, and you can’t expect to go back. The post-pandemic future of British universities will entail mass-redundancies – a future that you’re helping create.

So in the sparing unlikeliness that Jo Grady would lower herself to listening to a student’s opinion and read this post – I implore you to stop the posturing. Don’t deny reality with ‘high quality remote teaching’ – it doesn’t exist. Don’t compare university communities to care homes – most of us are at minimal risk. Tell your colleagues to do their jobs, and students will thank you.

@ae0nia – twitter – contact email


2 thoughts on “To Jo Grady and the UCU

  1. Totally agree and well written. students have suffered enough with these ridiculous restrictions. Let students have their lives and education back.


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