Edinburgh University student whose year abroad was cancelled due to Covid is paying £4,600 for two hours of online teaching a week

An Edinburgh University languages student whose year abroad was scrapped due to Covid has made a formal complaint after being offered an “infantlising” two hours a week of teaching – while paying thousands of pounds in fees.

Emily Hughes, who studies a joint honours degree in English literature and French, was meant to be travelling to France to teach English in a school in September last year.

However, the university delayed her departure – along with hundreds of other students – due to the pandemic until after Christmas and eventually the trip was scrapped.

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However, Ms Hughes, from Hertfordshire, has had just two hours a week of online teaching during this year, despite paying full "year abroad" fees of £4,625 – and has made a complaint to both the university and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) about the situation.

Emily Hughes studies French and English literature.

Scottish students do not pay fees themselves, but are funded by Student Awards Agency Scotland.

She said: “They told us last year after lockdown began that it would be cancelled for September, which was fair enough.

"What would have been favourable would have been if it had been clear cut. Instead, we got told we’d get more information in November, then that was delayed.

"Eventually, they sent us documents and told us if we wanted to go, we had to fill out risk assessments. It was just such an impossible process. The school I should have taught at in France would have been closed for some of the time anyway.”

Once the trip was cancelled, Ms Hughes claims students were not offered a viable alternative.

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She said: "They had some six months from the first lockdown to put together a robust university course, which they didn’t. It was just four online modules of activities, which were basically reading comprehension, and some online quizzes. I was learning more at school.”

She added: “It was quite infantilising. We were expecting a bit more than that from our university degree. I’ve been in Edinburgh this whole year, just trying to carry on as normal as a student, but I haven’t had a lot to do, so its been pretty disheartening.”

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Ms Hughes said she had studied Persian earlier in her degree, where students regularly had to cancel trips to Iran due to the political situation.

She said: “They have an intensive Persian course in place for if students can’t travel. You would think they would have a similar safety net for French, rather than scrambling at the last minute.

“Even for Scottish students who don’t pay fees themselves, the taxpayer is paying these fees somewhere."

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said students of European languages had been offered an eight-week summer course.

He said: “This has been a challenging year for our students and we of course sympathise with those who were planning a year of study overseas, but have been unable to do so because of Covid.

2In addition to live online teaching, students have been provided with activities to investigate off-line – both for self-study and group discussions.

“We know that this is a year like no other, but we want to reassure our students that we are listening to them and acting on their feedback.” 

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A spokeswoman for SPSO said it would not comment on specific complaints.

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