On 18 March 2021 Director Minouche Shafik welcomed students from across the School to our second virtual student Q&A.
Joining her were members of the Senior Management Committee (SMC): Dilly Fung, Pro-Director (Education), Simon Hix, Pro-Director (Research), and Andrew Young (Chief Operating Officer).
The session opened with an update from Minouche.
This year has been marked by huge challenges, but also outstanding work from everyone in the LSE community. Every day, I hear stories of faculty members having cameras shipped to their homes so they can provide higher quality recordings of their lectures, or students setting up networks around the world to support each other.
Despite all of that, I know that recent months have been very tough. The good news is, with vaccination there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and we will see these restrictions ease in the coming months. We’re really looking forward to reopening campus more fully and providing more in-person activities as soon as we can and as long as it’s safe to do so.
In that context, we are committed to supporting you no matter what and have recently launched the LSE assessment support package. This will help you understand the support that’s available, how to access it, and what you might need for the upcoming assessment period.
The assessment support package builds on existing measures and introduces new and enhanced ways of supporting you, such as the Digital Support Fund, extending out-of-hours mental health support, changes to the marking process to account for the anticipated difficulties you may face, and much more.
Question and answer session
Several themes were covered in the Q&A section of the event including campus reopening, in-person social activities, fee refunds, and assessment schedules.
What type of in-person activities will resume when restrictions allow?
Much of this depends on when we can fully re-open campus. The earliest provisional date the UK government will review the fuller re-opening of higher education institutions without practical courses is after the Easter holiday in the UK. At this point, we will have a clearer idea about whether we can expand our activities more, and the types of activities we can provide.
The type of events we have in mind for after the break are things like revision sessions, study groups, and other opportunities for you to meet with your peers in small groups. Alongside these specifically educational-driven opportunities, we are looking into small-group social activities such as food trucks in the CBG square, treasure hunts, street photography, or visits to museums. Departments are also looking at what they may be able to provide as well, although this will depend on your programme.
Why isn’t LSE offering fee refunds for this academic year?
We are confident that we are continuing to provide a high-quality learning experience, as promised to our students. We have also invested in new technology and additional academic staff hires to ensure activities that usually take place in person have been successfully implemented digitally.
This is alongside extensive services relating to areas such as wellbeing, academic support and careers. And, we have made a significant investment around campus safety, with testing, LSE Trace, and our COVID-secure measures. A reduction in fees would only serve to restrict what is currently available, reduce the resources for students in the longer term and undermine our ability to return to campus safely and fully.
LSE’s position is in line with the conditions set out by the UK Universities Minister that need to be met to maintain tuition fees. We remain committed to doing what we can to provide students with the best education possible and are actively looking at ways we can enhance the student experience in the coming weeks and months ahead.
What’s going to happen with graduation for the class of 2020-2021?
The graduation in December isn’t cancelled yet and we need to wait and see. There are some warnings about the return of social distancing in the autumn as well as concerns about variants. However, the ultimate intention is that if we can get graduations going in-person, that’s what we’ll do. We will provide more updates as we understand what may be possible as vaccination programmes are rolled out and travel restrictions hopefully ease around the globe.
How will you support students after leaving LSE, knowing they haven’t been able to access some services and networking opportunities?
Alumni can access our career service for five years after their graduation and we are looking at extending that further. As a former LSE student, you’ll always have access to our Alumni Centre and to our entrepreneurial hub, LSE Generate. LSE alumni associations are also active all over the world and constitute quality networking opportunities.
Why do LSE students have to get tested twice a week?
Government guidance to universities is that students should get tested twice a week. As one of a few institutions that has kept our campus partially open during this recent lockdown, we made the decision that all students and staff should get tested twice a week to access campus in line with this guidance. This could evolve after the break.
What is LSE doing to make sure assessments are equitable for students sitting assessments in different time zones?
We know this is a difficulty for some students and we are taking a permissive and flexible approach to deferrals for assessments, with no need to provide evidence of why you wish to defer. By sitting an assessment, you are acknowledging that you are able and well enough to do so. If you know in advance that sitting an assessment in your time zone will significantly affect your performance, you should consider deferring your assessment to July/August 2021 for undergraduates, and January 2022 for postgraduates.
We have also expanded the Exceptional Circumstances criteria, to take into account COVID-related circumstances and provided examples of what might be acceptable as part of the ECs procedure. You can find more information about these policies on the assessment support package webpages.
Will LSE increase the number of counsellors and therapists available given the additional strain on the Centre?
Yes. We recently recruited additional counsellors and continue to monitor the number of students who request help. Over the winter break, work with an outside partner Spectrum.Life to offer telephone consultations outside of office hours and we got some great feedback on that. We will keep this in place at least until the end of Summer Term, which means that LSE will effectively be offering 24/7 support to students, which we’ve never done before.
We’re also offering students the option of online counselling through Spectrum Life, to assist us in reducing waiting times. As always, students with urgent needs will continue to be prioritised for support through the Student Wellbeing Service.
LSE cleaners have raised several demands in relation to their working conditions. How will you implement these demands?
LSE is absolutely committed to equity, diversity and inclusion for all staff. All of our colleagues in the facilities management team rightly receive the same terms and conditions as every other member of our staff. Cleaning colleagues are a vital part of our community and essential for the School’s wider wellbeing.
We were delighted to be one of the first universities to bring all staff inhouse around two years ago. We want to look after our cleaners, they have representation through UNISON, and they are paid above the London living wage. Whilst most of our cleaners for much of the last year have been furloughed, we’ve been fully making up their wages. We’re also being very careful not to ask vulnerable staff to not come back to work until they are safe and vaccinated.
Written by Yasmine Mehdi, Department of Government