Frustrated Sydney University students paying $40,000 a year to sit on a laptop
Students frustrated with remote learning are unhappy about paying full fees while battling with expanding online tutorials as Sydney’s universities work towards bringing more classes back to campus.
Universities are offering some face-to-face learning including tutorials and laboratories on campus, but many classes including those normally delivered in large lecture halls are delivered online to meet COVID-19 safety restrictions.
Cooper Forsyth, 20, a second-year University of Sydney arts student, said all his classes were online, but he would prefer to attend in person.
“I am definitely getting sick of it, it’s harder to do it online,” he said. “But the other side of it is there are students who live quite far away … who are getting more of an opportunity.”
He said online tutorials had grown to as many as 40 students which made it harder to be collaborative and “to feel confident to speak in class”.
Incoming University of Sydney Student Representative Council (SRC) president Swapnik Sanagavarapu said he initially opted into online classes to avoid the risk of coronavirus, but was regretting his decision. He said online learning had put a lot of stress on staff and students who were finding it more difficult to engage.
“Being online makes it easier to be distracted so it’s harder to self regulate your learning,” he said.
“I think it has reduced the intellectual rigour of my study because I’ve lost the ability to have the same level of discussion.”
Liam Donohoe, the SRC president, said some vulnerable students had preferred online learning, and the delivery of remote classes had improved, but “overwhelmingly people are very, very keen to return to the usual format”.
“More than the actual learning experience, what’s frustrating students is the fact that they are paying the same amount for it even if they are doing the course entirely remotely,” he said.
“There are a lot of international students paying upwards of $40,000 a year to sit on a laptop in China who are very upset that they are still paying the same amount of money.”
University of Sydney academic and National Tertiary Education Union branch member Robert Boncardo said staff were finding it harder to engage with students in growing online classes.
“There is a communication deficit which makes the pedagogical experience worse and this has exacerbated as class sizes have increased as well,” he said.
A University of Sydney spokeswoman said most of its lectures were being delivered online but it has been offering face-to-face teaching “where possible” on campus in line with NSW and federal health advice.
“We know the importance of the on-campus student experience,” the spokeswoman said. “We look forward to having all our students able to take part in these kinds of activities as soon as possible.”
University of NSW staff have also reported online class sizes have ballooned. A spokeswoman said face-to-face teaching had resumed in its third term and many laboratory classes and tutorials were available on campus.
University of Technology deputy vice-chancellor Professor Shirley Alexander said while the university has offered on-campus classes, the majority of students had opted for online.
She said 53 per cent of the students who opted for the campus class “fairly quickly opted to go back online because they became concerned about the COVID numbers increasing”.
“If the numbers stay low we really are hoping we can do a lot more over summer and next semester on campus,” Professor Alexander said.
A UTS spokesman said around one-third of teaching activities were delivered “face-to-face on campus, and two-thirds online”.
A Macquarie University spokesman said about 40 per cent of students “are undertaking some on-campus teaching activities” but all lectures are still delivered online.