Access & Returning to University

On Friday 18 and Monday 21 September 2020, we held two open discussions on access and returning to University.

This was for students to raise concerns and questions about how they would access online and ‘blended’ learning, social aspects of University life, financial concerns, moving around campus - and anything else you wanted to bring up.

There was a link to a padlet wall where students could contribute their concerns anonymously.

A few people came to the discussions, and others fed into them through friends, through Access Sussex, or through the padlet wall.

We wanted to go through some of your concerns and answer them below. And where we don’t yet have answers, we explain how we plan to find those answers for you.

Someone raised the issue of parents and carers, who could be at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 now that schools have reopened, or be living with and caring for those at higher risk.

This was also something which came up in our survey, conducted over the summer: some students are themselves at higher risk of health complications from Covid-19, or are living with parents or other relatives who are high risk. We have them in mind in our discussions with the University about safety procedures and online learning.

Can we choose online-only learning if we want to?

When we asked members of the University Senior Management team (Kelly Coate, Jayne Aldridge and Graeme Pedlingham) at our meeting last Thursday about how students who did not feel comfortable coming into University for in-person teaching should indicate this.

They said that there was the option to select online-only lessons when you re-register for the academic year.

However, they also said that the University would prefer to have a discussion with any students anxious about coming in, to ensure that they were aware of various safety measures that were being taken, in order to try and reassure them.

They also stressed that International students who are in the UK on Tier 4 visas should contact the International Student Support office to discuss their preference for all-online teaching before selecting this option, in order to avoid running into visa compliance issues.

The contact information for the International Student Support office is: [email protected] available from this webpage.

If you are having trouble navigating the University’s processes, remember you can always book an appointment with the SU Advice team, or email them confidentially on [email protected].

Will lecturers be encouraged to provide lecture captioning on Panopto for pre-recorded lectures?

The TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) team at the University have provided guides for lecturers to caption their lectures, and provided training sessions to bring online content up to standard over the course of the summer. Here is their page on accessibility in Panopto, and this is a longer session for tutors about getting started with online learning, including on Panopto.

The Students’ Union is also developing a reporting tool for students to report issues with course content. This should be ready for the start of term, and we are hoping that this could provide a way for us to collect data on the kinds of issues students are facing, so that we can help to resolve them. This will also contain a section for tutors to explain what they think has gone wrong and why they were unable to provide the relevant content, so that we can identify patterns in this and to see if there are any issues tutors are facing that could easily be fixed at a course level or School level. This is so that we can approach the right people at the University to get the issue resolved efficiently.

For blended learning contexts, have measures been taken to ensure that the online content is to a high standard?

When we raised these issues at our meeting with senior management last Thursday, they said that if everything had to be fully online, they have taken steps to ensure that this meets quality assurance standards.

How is accessibility being considered in the one-way routes around campus? Are the routes accessible to everyone and are there multiple accessible routes?

At our meeting with senior management, they said that accessibility had been considered when planning the routes, however in some cases there may not be multiple accessible routes to the same places, to allow for social distancing.

Matt (Students with Disabilities Officer) and Nehaal (Diversity, Access and Participation Officer) will be going on a campus walk with someone from Sussex Estates and Facilities on Friday to look into the accessibility of some of these routes together.

If there are limited indoor and outdoor seating areas, are there systems in place to allow students with disabilities priority access to seating, if they need it?

We raised this at our last meeting with management, and they said that they would be asking Sussex Estates and Facilities to look into this. Jayne Aldridge (Director of Student Experience) said that she would get in touch with Sussex Estates and Facilities (or SEF) to put signage up to encourage people to give up their seats to students with disabilities. When we met with someone from SEF, they seemed aware of this, so the message has been put through and hopefully will be implemented.

The SU Officer team sent around an email on Friday 25th September to all students with information about the sunflower lanyard scheme, to let people know that students with invisible disabilities might be wearing them, and we’ll try and keep this information in people’s minds going forward as well. We have also been asking the University about additional outdoor seating all summer, but we are waiting to hear from SEF about this.

Matt (Students with Disabilities Officer) and Nehaal (Diversity, Access and Participation Officer) will be doing trips around campus this week and next week to check automatic doors are working, that entry to and exit from lecture theatres is not impeded by anything, and to think about the one-way routes.

If you see any issues around campus in terms of placement of hand sanitisers or accessibility features which are not working, email us or you can email Sussex Estates and Facilities directly on [email protected] - CC Matt ([email protected]) and Nehaal ([email protected]) so we can make sure we’re aware of the issues and can chase people up.

Are the Campus Ambassadors, who will be making sure people socially distance, aware of students with disabilities and the fact that they might have different needs?

We asked Jayne Aldridge, Director of Student Experience, about this and she said that the Campus Ambassadors have been fully trained to be aware of students with disabilities and the fact that they might need access to seating and may need to reach a lift, for example. They have also been trained in awareness of the sunflower lanyard scheme for students with invisible disabilities, and the yellow lanyards for students who are exempt from wearing a mask indoors.

Please get in touch with Matt ([email protected]) and Nehaal ([email protected]) if you run into problems and we’ll raise it with the appropriate people.

Have the accessible areas of campus all been reopened and made safe (e.g. accessible rooms in the library)? Are there still multiple accessible routes around campus?

The accessible study rooms in the library will be open and available to book as normal.

When asked, we were told that all the accessible routes which are in place around campus have been made compliant with social distancing measures, however some of the accessible routes which were in place before have had to be shut down as they were not able to be made compliant with social distancing. As a result, Sussex Estates and Facilities suggested that while there will be accessible routes, there may not be multiple route options to the same place.

Director of Student Experience, Jayne Aldridge, said in our Thursday meeting that, if students found that routes were too long, we could look into getting rest points put in place. Please contact Nehaal ([email protected]) and Matt ([email protected]) if you are experiencing difficulties getting around campus as a result of any of the measures put in place due to Covid-19 and we can try and get some kind of resolution sorted out.

What if students need to go against the one-way system to access lifts or other features, or if the remaining accessible routes are too long?

When we raised this, we were told that although the one-ways systems would need to be observed, even for students with disabilities, so students will need to go around the one-way system to get to the lift or classroom.

Can the University offer students support with fixing laptops or upgrading them to help with studying online?

We have raised this issue a number of times, including in our joint statement with campus unions, in which we asked for students to be provided with a grant to upgrade their equipment and WiFi connections in order to improve their access to online learning, and minimise disruption.

In our last meeting with Jayne Aldridge (Director of Student Experience) and Kelly Coate (Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Students), it was suggested that measures are being taken to try and work out resolutions for students who need to upgrade or fix their machines, or who do not have access to WiFi. They told us that, if a student is having difficulty, they should flag the difficulty with their School and IT Services in the first instance.

Students should feel they can CC Nehaal (Diversity, Access and Participation Officer - [email protected]) or Connor (Education & Employability Officer - [email protected]) into these emails if they aren’t sure who to get in touch with or need someone to help follow up.

Laptop loans - can it be ensured that laptops available for loan can run assistive technology?

A number of students indicated that the Chromebooks, which they have received as laptop loans, were not able to run assistive technology or run specialist technology for particular subjects (e.g. media editing software or statistical software). The Director of Student Experience, Jayne Aldridge, responded to our question about this to say that Schools and IT Services were working together with others to try and work out how students could access computers with specialist software on campus, and that students should get in touch with their Schools and IT Services to flag up any issues they are facing with this in the first instance.

This would also be a good issue to report using the SU’s reporting tool (currently in development) for students to let us know about persistent problems accessing course materials and online learning. This should be live soon and will be linked from this page when it is.

What about students who receive DSA but also need financial assistance to replace laptops?

Students who received Disability Support Allowance (DSA) had said that while DSA would cover the cost of a new laptop, they required a £200 contribution, which many could not afford.

When we raised this with senior management, Director of Student Experience Jayne Aldridge indicated that, in the case of the shortfall in DSA, students should contact the Student Support Unit and Student Life Centre to discuss this issue, and possibly consider apply to the hardship fund. The Students’ Union is happy to help students with this process - book an appointment with our Advice team directly, or email them at [email protected]. Or you can get in touch with Nehaal ([email protected]) if you aren’t sure how to proceed.

Can students with disabilities, but who do not have a blue badge, get access to parking permits for on-campus parking?

Yes, they should be able to and the University is working with SEF to make this possible.

The University acknowledges that there is currently a backlog for disabled students’ parking permits, but they are working with Sussex Estates and Facilities (SEF) to get this fixed. If you have applied for a parking permit, as a disabled student without a blue badge, you should also contact the Student Support Unit again.

Nehaal will be contacting SEF to ask about parking permits and whether or not students can pay for voucher books to use as they wish only on the days they are on campus, rather than for the whole academic year. Currently on the University website about parking, this option is not offered to students.

Students have been having trouble getting access to course materials; many key texts are not online.

When we discussed this in our catch-ups with the Library, we were told that they were working hard to get access to key texts. Many academic publishers have exploited the shift to online and raised prices for ebooks, but they should be able to get key texts where possible.

Sometimes lecturers can upload readings, too. You should be able to ask them to upload scans of the readings. Please get in touch with us if they are not able to do this.

Sometimes, tutors upload readings as images, which are not scannable.

To ensure readings are accessible to all students, tutors should upload readings as scannable PDF documents, and not as images, as images cannot be read by assistive software for instance.

If you want to ensure that your lecturer or seminar tutor will be uploading the readings in scannable form, please ask them directly, or get in touch with us. They can watch a video like this one to see how to make their PDFs scannable.

The SU is developing a reporting tool for students to let us know about persistent problems accessing course materials and online learning, which should be live soon and will be linked from this page when it is.

Is the no-detriment policy going to be continued this term?

There are no plans for the no-detriment policy, introduced to cover the A2 (second assessment) period in the Spring of 2020, to continue this term.

If students need extra time on their assessments for health reasons or are experiencing issues which affect their education, they should contact the Student Support Unit or the Student Life Centre. You can register with the Student Support Unit if you have a disability that affects your work, or just book an appointment to chat to them about any concerns you have, if you’re unsure if you need to register.

Sussex can also put reasonable adjustments in place for students who might need them. Book an appointment with the Student Support Unit for help with this.

For extensions to deadlines which come up for any other reason, you can also contact Student Support. Remember that it takes upto 15 days to process an extension, so make sure you get in touch with them in good time.

If something happens around your assessments and you need to make an exceptional circumstances claim, there’s more information on that process here.

Remember that you can always book an appointment with the SU Advice team to discuss any of these processes if you’re at all unsure.

Are staff being remunerated for the extra work hours they are putting in to make things accessible and to improve online learning before the term starts?

When we raised staff working hours with management, we received the response that although many people were working overtime at the moment, this is not something that is expected from their teams. Students may notice staff emailing at odd hours as they may have requested different work patterns to allow for being in another country, or to work around childcare or other caring responsibilities they may have.

Read our latest Covid updates.