Auckland University students stressed over decision to return to campus after COVID-19 lockdown

Students say they feel unheard by the University's management.
Students say they feel unheard by the University's management. Photo credit: Getty

Thousands of people are pleading with the University of Auckland to keep lectures online after the Vice-Chancellor announced all lectures under 300 people would resume on campus.

The decision from Dawn Freshwater was emailed to students on Monday, informing them they would be required to attend classes in person from the following Monday.

"The University has been reminded by students, including by AUSA (Auckland University Students Association) and our Faculty Student Associations, of the value of an on-campus experience," Freshwater said in the email, provided to Newshub by a student.

"As we all continue to adapt to life in a COVID-19 environment I am confident that the same high trust, personal responsibility approach taken as a nation will also serve us as well as a university."

All exams and tests will also be completed on campus with physical distancing. 

Almost 10,000 people have signed two petitions pleading for leniency from the university - one is begging for a grade scale up as was granted in the first COVID-19 lockdown in March - however Freshwater's email clarified this would not be happening.

"While there is no doubt that the latest lockdown has also been disruptive, a further grade bump is not considered appropriate and will not be applied.

The other is asking that all exams be moved online, with an extended time limit for completion. While Freshwater said provisions for students with underlying conditions would be considered, the majority would need to be physically present. 

Students who are unable to attend an exam due to "sickness or unforeseen 

circumstances" can pay between $30 and $50 for compassionate consideration. 

However, a spokesperson for the university told Newshub on Tuesday the fee for compassionate consideration would be waived for Semester Two - despite this not being clear on the University website, or in the email to students.

"Any student who develops COVID-19 symptoms, is asked to stay at home and seek medical advice," the spokesperson said.

"Should this occur at a time that impacts their ability to sit a test or examination, they can apply for an aegrotat consideration via the usual process. The administration fees for both the aegrotat and compassionate consideration process will be waived for Semester Two."

The U-turn on charging for compassionate consideration follows fury from students who told Newshub it beggared belief. 

One student said it was likely students would turn up sick as they would not be able to afford the fees or feared failing. 

"It's really, really concerning. We're being forced to choose between an education, and our wellbeing."

She says keeping the "arduous" process the same as pre-COVID demonstrates a lack of care.

"The process is exactly the doesn't take into account that we're in a pandemic".

To her, and many other students It's a sign the university doesn't care about them.

"We're all extremely stressed about this - we were stressed before - but knowing the university doesn't care one bit about it makes it even worse."

The university spokesperson said students who are concerned about returning to campus can view their lectures online. 

But if they do not have underlying health conditions, or immunocompromised family, they are expected to attend other course requirements in person.

Students who are concerned about attending campus, but do not have a high-risk health condition, can contact the University's Health and Counselling Service for support.

However the student says she doesn't feel enough is being done, and procedures to keep people safe seem lax.

"Masks are not compulsory and students are only distanced by a metre, so imagine if I'm sitting in a lecture with two maskless people a metre away on either side of me - that's just a really scary thought." 

The email from Freshwater asked students to bring face coverings with them and "make use of these where appropriate".

She also confirmed there would be extra cleaning. 

"We have enhanced cleaning regimes to ensure a healthy and safe environment for everyone on campus. You will see hand sanitiser stations and cleaning materials at multiple locations on campus."

It's not just students who are stressed and upset at the decision - some staff are hesitant to return too.

A former tutor told Newshub it sounded like "a breeding ground for COVID-19".

Newshub has contacted AUSA for comment.