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COVID Q&A's

Following the live Q&A session, we have collected a substantial number of questions from students. We thank all of you that attended and provided such valuable feedback which we can use to improve your academic experience and find ways to better support you during these difficult times. Below are the responses from the University on the questions asked by students during the Q&A session.

If you have any further queries, please do get in touch with us at su-info@westminster.ac.uk

 

Booking Spaces On-site

► Spaces need to be more flexible onsite, twice a week is not enough for some students.

Bookings are now available three times a week. We want to ensure that those who need access to the space have a fair chance of getting this whilst continuing safe and legal access in terms of numbers. We are working with the Being Safe, Feeling Safe team, Estates colleagues and UWSU to keep this under review.

► Request for bookings takes too long in the library, what's the reason for this?

At present, staff have been volunteering to be on site twice a week. We are planning to have more library staff on site from January 2021 across the week, so this process should speed up in the new year, although some items will still need to be transported between sites.

► A lot of the space that are booked in the library are empty – is there a way that unused spaces can be booked by other people?

We are aware of this (33% of people are not showing up and not cancelling). Our plan is to say that spaces will become available if people do not show up within 30 minutes of the appointment time and do not let us know. We discussed this with UWSU and are now looking at how we can get the message out to all students so that they know to cancel and understand the importance of arriving on time or contacting us if they are delayed.

Bursaries & Financial Support

► What bursaries are available to Westminster Students? What financial support is there available to students struggling with living costs? 

Any student who is experiencing financial difficulties, whether due to problems with their Student Finance England funding or maybe because of loss of earnings can receive expert advice and guidance on financial options from our Student Advice team https://www.westminster.ac.uk/current-students/support-and-services/student-advice

New financial support schemes were set up last March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic but have been extended and are open to all new and continuing students. These are open to UK, EU and International students.

The first scheme is called Stay on Track – for students facing difficulty paying for day to day living costs including food or medical costs due to the pandemic. Students can apply for a one-off £750 grant to help towards these costs.  

The Stay Sheltered scheme is an accommodation bursary worth up to £1,110 depending on the rent or residential fees a student pays. The bursary is paid direct to the accommodation provider. For details on how to apply and to download the application forms. 

Details of these schemes are available here: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/current-students/university-life/student-finance/coronavirus-financial-support-from-the-university

► Is there financial support for equipment?

The University also has the 125 fund – this opens in January and is available to all current Westminster students to support projects and activities that enhance their employability, develop their skills and help students to achieve their full potential. Awards range from £150 to £1500 – To find out details of the fund and how to apply, please go to: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/current-students/university-life/student-finance/other-funding-options/the-125-fund-awards

 What other financial support is available to students not using Student Finance England? 

The Careers and Employability service provides opportunities for paid online work with the University – see https://www.westminster.ac.uk/current-students/employability-and-career-development/jobs-and-work-experience/talent-bank. See also responses to specific questions on employability below.

Deadlines

► Will there be flexibility to deadlines?

Any students can submit a mitigating circumstance claim for any COVID-19 related reason, without documentary evidence. Students are able to chose a 5-day extension or a deferral to the deferral period in the summer.

On-campus Requests

► When will we be back onsite? ​​​​​​

Students will hopefully be able to gain some onsite activity by Feb 1st, this will be limited to 20% capacity until social distancing requirements can be relaxed. If you are unsure of whether you will or won’t be required to come onsite, please talk to your course leader.

► Will there be face to face teaching in January?

There will be no onsite teaching face to face in January. This is to allow a staggered return to campus approach as government guidelines require. Onsite teaching will resume in February on the 1st. The campus will be open for you to access click and collect for library books and you will be able to book study spaces. Some practical subjects may allow access to workshops and studios, speak with your course leader for more information on this.

► When we come onsite the campus feels closed, the heating is off and there is no activity on campus, barely anything is open for us to use.

We understand this is difficult. Your semester 2 timetable should be published by the Christmas break and this should give you more details. We will open up more as soon as it is safe and possible to do so, but we are guided by the Covid guidelines for this. 

We are balancing the need for fresh air and ventilation with the building temperature.  We are looking at a range of options to ensure all teaching spaces are warm and comfortable. 

► We need more information of time frames for being onsite so we can plan ahead; the information is shared too late for us to make arrangements.

The onsite schedules are specific to each course and are published by your School or College. This information changes in line with government guidance and we endeavour to inform you of the arrangements as soon as we are able.

► We need more details of time frames. I need to plan ahead and need to know if and when I will be back on campus as I don't live in London

We will resume teaching onsite from 1 Feb 2021, just after the online exam period. Timetables will vary by course, as will our capacity, as we are working in a COVID secure way. We undertake to communicate as soon as the information becomes clear.

Online Learning Issues

► We want the same level of teaching as face to face; online learning is not as good.

At present it is not possible to have a normal level of face to face. Feedback from Westminster, and indeed from courses that have run for many years, would suggest that online learning can provide a high-quality experience. However, distance learning requires new skills and different pedagogic designs and delivery approaches. Where experiences for students are poor these are likely linked to a combination of insufficient time for staff to re-design courses or module with distance delivery in mind and/or the local circumstances in which students have to learn. Over the Summer we offered to academic staff an extensive programme of development courses about online course design (see for an example resource ‘Online Learning -Key Tips for Success’) . During semester 1 we have continued this support programme, shifting the emphasis to how to use a range of online learning tools in delivery (see here for part of the recent programme and recordings) and see Key Resources for Online Learning. During the inter-semester break we will be offering a further ‘tranche’ of staff development opportunities that will be focussed on basic principles of online learning design and practical aspects of delivery.  

We will also re-introduce resources and online courses that we have designed to help students understand how to get the best from online learning (see Ten tips for an Online LearnerIntroduction to Blackboard UltraLearning to Work and Learn OnlineManaging your Time and your StudiesKey Information for Returning StudentsKey Information for New Students and Online Coursework Submission for Students. Mechanisms are in place, through online Teams groups and regular weekly webinars, for the sharing of best and effective online teaching practice. We have also introduced recently ‘in application’ hints and tips for staff and students to guide them in exploiting some of the features of Blackboard Ultra.

 Lack of engagement online. For example, in breakout rooms only a few students turn up

Lack of student engagement is a problem across the sector and has been apparent for years on face to face courses. Again, this is linked generally to course design and the development of a good co-working relationship between the teaching team and student cohort. In the development programme referred to above, the partnership referred to and the roles of staff and students in that partnership will be stressed in workshops about engagement approaches that can be successful online.

► Group work online is almost impossible, and we have given this feedback to course leaders but no action has been taken.

This is again likely linked to design and also the problem of student engagement plus the fact that some students state they cannot access Blackboard Collaborate. An overemphasis on groupwork in real-time also does not alleviate the problem but will, rather, exacerbate it, by failing to exploit the flexibility inherent in asynchronous group work. This again is linked to course design. During the inter-semester break principles for effective group work online, that were covered in staff development courses for staff over the Summer, will be re-visited.

 Some students can't access Blackboard Collaborate.

We provide detailed guidance online on how to access Blackboard Collaborate. If a student is unable to access Blackboard Collaborate, then they can log a service desk ticket and this will be investigated with them. In the many individual such cases that have already been explored, where users report they cannot access Collaborate, this is usually traceable to the home internet set-up (connectivity, browser). In all cases it has been possible, provided that users are able to use the recommended browser and have acceptable internet connectivity, to improve the experience for a user. We provide clear advice online as to how any user can get the best out of a Collaborate session which includes quite straightforward steps that can be taken at home (or wherever they are located) to help ensure good connectivity.

► Lecturers not turning up to online lectures or just showing a pre-recorded video/slideshow

Where issues are presented to us, we investigate these promptly at local level. The use of pre-recorded videos is an acceptable element of an online learning strategy but only of course if it is part of a strategy that integrates use of the resources with meaningful online engagement between the student and the tutors concerned. This once again is linked to a sound course design that students understand and then take part in. This will be stressed also in the staff inter-semester staff development programme.

► Internet issues for lectures meaning they drop out of the sessions lots of times.

Please see comments from the section above ‘Some students can’t access Blackboard Collaborate’ 

► Generally poor experience of learning online, what is the University doing about this?

Staff report that attendance and engagement is actually better online than onsite, overall, although of course we recognise that online learning does not suit everyone equally. The wider data and feedback collected does not suggest or support the view that students are generally receiving a poor experience of learning online. The University has and will continue to provide both online resources and workshops designed to help with effective online learning design, delivery as well as how to be most effective as an online learner.

Studio & Lab Spaces

 Fashion students are not being able to get on campus which leads to them spending a lot of money on external machines and printing.

We have agreed to open the studios on Saturdays for a short trial in January. If this is successful, we will continue to cover Saturday openings where demand warrants. Students have also been able to borrow half-mannequins and sewing machines for home use since September.

Twice s a week on campus is not enough for practical courses.

We need to adhere to guidelines produced by government and the office for students in regard to on-site working as well as our technical capacity to deliver onsite with social distancing and safety protocols. At the same time we attempt to offer opportunities for all students to experience onsite face to face teaching on practice-based courses.

► Some of the technicians don't turn up so even though we can come onsite there is not any staff to support us in the practical spaces.

There have been no reports of poor technician support from DCDI or LAS (quite the opposite in the latter) and so this is difficult to action. The best way to resolve any problems in this regard would be for concerns to be referred locally to the course leader so that they can be actioned.

► There needs to be space for group work in the labs.

It is not clear here if the space referred to is in relation to computer labs, or science labs. Currently within the Life Sciences breakout sessions from the physical onsite learning do take place.

► You have said that some courses have options to come onsite for lab work but the majority of my course have not been allowed onsite?

This is difficult to respond to without knowing the identity of the course in question. In order to have a specific response in relation to this course, please raise this with the relevant Course Leader. However, we are reviewing the capacity as guidelines change, in relation to the limits on numbers in the buildings.

Student Support Employability

► Is there support for students who are looking for jobs?

Yes. Events and workshops offered by the Careers and Employability service are available via Engage

The team have also curated a list of resources available at the University – including job hunting tips, employment advice, interview simulator (Shortlist.Me) as well as support available via external networks – including e-resources, virtual work experience opportunities, podcasts etc. More information and links via the Careers Blog. 

Talent Bank -  our recruitment programme for student workers within the University - advertises part-time jobs and will re-open again in February 2021. This year the Talent Bank has also benefited from funding from the QH Trust to make roles available to our current students. 

► I think there needs to be more support for students about to leave university during this time to support with future employment.

In addition to the resources mentioned above, the CES and Alumni teams have put together a careers support package for our Class of 2020. This includes handpicked online resources, access to graduate jobs advertised via Engage, careers appointments, Mentoring as well as a Digital Assessment Centre and much more. We encourage students to book an individual appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss their particular circumstances and to work on their own job search strategy.  All appointments are currently held remotely via Teams or telephone.

 Support for international students that are not in the UK – it's hard to get the full University experience when you are not even in the UK. 

International students have access to the wider Careers and Employability support as mentioned above. In addition to this, there are dedicated e-resources on job hunting tips for International students on Engage, our Westminster Working Cultures – Professional programme (offers international students and recent graduates a unique opportunity to learn virtually about the professional landscape, career opportunities and working life in the global labour market and, in particular, that of their home country), Entrepreneurship Information Session, and access to Student Circus – a job search platform for International students.

Tuition Fees

► What are the options for international students who are not even in UK for studying? We are getting half the experience but paying higher international fees.

We have been very conscious to be totally transparent with all students throughout the pandemic. The dangers to public health have forced a change in our approach to delivering programmes, giving the best to our students via our online learning platforms. The questionings appear not from dissatisfaction with the programme but from our students who are disappointed not to be able to study on campus. We are constantly reviewing our plans, looking at how we can get students back on campus as soon as possible, in fact all of our campuses are open and the University incurring the additional costs of doing this. We do not intend to deliver programmes online long term but must continue to do so until it is safe to fully return to more traditional methods.

Why didn't the University just defer the year?

Early in the pandemic we recognised the difficult situation our students and offer holders would face, feeling no option but to continue with their studies from a distance when in fact some students would feel happier waiting. As such we contacted every student and applicant explaining our plans, how this impacted on their specific programme, and giving the option to defer studies by one academic year. This way, our students could choose to continue with their studies remotely (utilising our online platforms with no change to their tuition fee) or wait until such a time as they could return to campus, paying nothing during the year out of studies. Those students who choose to continue with their studies chose this route which we believe offers the same excellent standard of education and moves the student a step closer to graduation. 

 All our students were given ample advance notice of the intention to deliver programmes online, notified that the tuition fee would not change, and made aware of how their programme would be structured during this period. We did this in line with our terms and conditions, in keeping with the advice from the sector regulator the Office for Students.

► Can there be reduction in fees for those students who haven't been onsite at all?

We have invested heavily in ensuring all students are able to fully engage with their course, have access to all the required materials, and have the academic and pastoral support necessary to achieve. It is correct that we promote the wonderful experience of studying in London, using our excellent facilities, and meeting new people as part of your studies, however these are peripheral benefits to the programme, which is being delivered uninterrupted, to the same high standards.

► Can we get a breakdown on where fees are going because we are not on site?

Fees continue to be allocated as they have been previously, only this year additional costs are being incurred ensuring campuses and halls of residence are open and Covid secure for University Colleagues and our students, and in moving teaching on-line to offer the ‘blended’ teaching experience.  

Each year the University publishes ‘What our your fees used for’ and for 2018/19 this document can be found at: 'What are you fees used for' 

The document for 2019/20 is currently being revised and this will be available on the University website to review later this month (December).

► Can there be flexibility in paying fees for those not using student finance, as students are facing financial difficulties but still having to pay full fees?

The Tuition fee payment plan can be found at Paying your fees.

Those individuals who are having difficulty in paying their fees in line the University payment terms and conditions should contact a member of the credit control team in the first instance to discuss alternative payment plan options. Members of the finance credit control team can be reached at finance@westminster.ac.uk