Defeated by Digital Transition or Celebrating Some Certainty?

Yesterday, UWE Bristol students received an email from Steve West, Vice-Chancellor, detailing the upcoming plans for the academic year 2020/21.

I think we can all agree there hasn’t been a more uncertain time than now, as we face the COVID-19 Pandemic. With restrictions and social distancing measures differing up and down the United Kingdom, as well as globally, we can all acknowledge that the uncertainty is more than just a national worry.

And in the heart of this crisis are students like us. Young people with an uncertain future of studying, the ambiguity of future jobs and placements that has hit us hard, but this email has set out UWE Bristol’s plan to tackle the next academic year.

Steve West has introduced a digital plan for the first four weeks of the academic year 2020/21, called ‘Block Zero’ from Monday 21st September 2020, confirming no change to the main starting date. He also confirms following Teaching Block One when academic programmes resume and a further Teaching Block Two 2.

He says, ‘Block Zero’ will be providing ‘personalised support’ and help us ‘improve our digital skills’ so we can be ‘ready to hit the ground running’ for when our programme teaching resumes.

But will this be enough? Will we only be still at a slow-paced jog by the time teaching does resume?

I have had many of my uni friends’ message me or pop-up on group chats. ‘Have you seen the email?’, ‘Is it worth even going back’ and ‘It’s a joke’ were things I was reading.

And I will be the first to admit, I wondered, will it be enough?

The face-to-face contact and quality of workshopping physically in a lecture hall will be completely missed in both ‘Block Zero’ and most of Teaching Block One where all formal lectures will be online. However, there is hope for face-to-face contact in Teaching Block Two, depending on the climate of the pandemic and government guidelines to ensure campus safety for students and staff.

Steve West accepts in the email that our programmes do ‘benefit from being interactive and practice-led’ and says UWE Bristol is ‘currently looking at how we can facilitate small groups teaching face-to-face, and provide the appropriate opportunities for (you) us to use specialist labs, studios and other facilities’ in Teaching Block One and anticipates more contact in the following Teaching Block Two.

I have to admit, I was disappointed. But in the back of my mind I saw this coming and actually, considering the recent decision from Cambridge to take all of their studying online, we are quite lucky with the consideration of the possibility of face-to-face contact in Teaching Block Two.

I made myself reflect on the bigger picture and it’s true.

He is right. This will keep campuses safe. It will keep us safe. Our friends safe. Our families safe. Whilst our expected uni lifestyle changes, these decisions are not taken lightly or without any thought.

Is it really worth the risk of being face to face with the threat of corona virus?


Will we miss out on some of our university experience?

Of course we will, but so will so many other people. And whilst we may feel this is unfair, there are people fighting for their lives, on ventilators across the world that would leap at the chance of simply being in lockdown instead of on their deathbed to put it frankly. UWE Bristol could let everyone back in and risk our lives, but they have stood their ground and put us first, even though we may view it as unfair. But take a step back. Even though its deflating, many of us have our health and that is what UWE Bristol are aiming to protect.

With weekly government updates circulating and still a large measure of uncertainty, UWE Bristol have been proactive of at least providing an answer to what we have all been thinking about – whether we get university at all. And we will, on the expected starting date. Not the ‘normal’ three semesters but at altered blocks for our safety.

 The question is whether other students will see it this way, with many angry with no mention of discounted tuition fees or promised contact hours due to the fragility of the pandemic. Whilst the situation is forever changing, I think that this plan was not only helpful to give us at least a plan and Steve West assures us ‘As plans become clearer’ we will ‘have more details’.

I don’t think they could really give us anymore.

Steve West ensures us ‘Regardless of whether you’re studying online or in person, you’re still part of the UWE Bristol community. We want to be able to resume activity on our campuses as soon as it’s safe to do so. Like everything over the past few months, it’s not ideal – we recognise that.’ 

Even though, like many other students, I am deflated with this news, I think as Steve West says, we do have to be ‘flexible and creative’ and adapt to our new normal for the time being. Ultimately, no one, including UWE Bristol, has any idea where we will be in weeks, let alone months, so the key is to be patient, understanding and even if we are deflated, hopeful. UWE Bristol will resume, and we should be thankful that the next academic year is still going ahead. It’s easy to focus on the negative end to this year’s teaching that has been far from ideal, but with restricted information and so much to sort through, I believe that UWE Bristol, like many other universities, has been quick to relay any information or strategies.

Chloe Smith is a second year Creative and Professional Writing Student.

Featured image: Tim Gouw / Unsplash,

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