Culture

Uni Students Are Unsurprisingly Very Unhappy About Online Learning

Students from low socio-economic status backgrounds could no longer access quiet study spaces they could use during face-to-face teaching.

Up to 50 percent of students in tertiary education institutions were unhappy with the shift to online learning this year, according to a new report.

Though students appreciated and recognised the effort it took to transition to online learning in the face of a global pandemic, they also “did not like the experience of online learning and
did not wish to ever experience it again”

The report, conducted by the higher education regulator Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), also found there was a great diversity in student experiences of online learning due to a number of factors like home environments, whether students were domestic or international, the stringency of the lockdown their state was under, the degree they were undertaking, and what year of study they were in. This led to conflicting views between two students who were, for example, on the same campus but one studied music performance and the other, law.

Overall though, when asked what did not work well, 41 percent of respondents reported IT problems. Lack of engagement with academics and between peers was a significant factor for unhappiness. The report found many instances of online classes being shorter than face-to-face ones, as well as instances of rescheduling which causes disruptions to students’ schedules. Many students — particularly international students — did not think they were getting “value for money” and requested refunded fees. 30 percent of students also had problems with assessment arrangements.

16 percent of students named mental health issues as a major negative of online learning, and 15 percent pointed to their home environments affecting their studies negatively.

Students did not feel online classes held through Zoom or other software were equivalent to meeting on campus with friends and peers and this lack of student to student interaction led to students feeling “isolated” and “alienated”.

For students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds, quiet study spaces available during face-to-face teaching were lost. This affected regional and rural universities known to have low SES and Indigenous students most. Many students also did not wish to show their homes on video to their peers, concerned about how their homes appeared, and also the presence of other family members.

The pandemic has exposed class divides, and online learning assumes all students have access to private, safe and stable shelter — which isn’t the case.

Not all news is bad new though. The biggest positives were flexible access to learning materials — which students hoped would continue when face-to-face learning returned — and access to academic help and advise online.

As online learning will continue into 2021 with some universities maintaining online only classes, while others will deliver only certain subjects online, this survey shows there is a lot of work the sector has left to do if the value of learning and teaching is to remain the same.

Mehreen Faruqi, spokesperson for the Greens on higher education, said the “incentive to move online is created by [higher education] cuts” by the Morrison government. Public universities were not eligible for JobKeeper throughout the pandemic, and overall government funding cuts for degrees were announced in June this year.

“I’m concerned unis will capitalise on the move to online learning to cut costs and reduce staffing,” Faruqi said.

So far, it is projected 1 in 10 university jobs will be cut, and both universities and TAFEs have already had to make decisions to cut entire courses.