UCL law students complain of ‘overwhelming’ workload and ‘unhealthy’ screen usage during online studies

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By Aishah Hussain on

Exclusive: ‘The safety, health and wellbeing of our students is our highest priority’, says uni in response

A group of University College London (UCL) law students have written to the faculty complaining about the “overwhelming” workload and “unhealthy” amount of screen usage they are having to grapple with as they continue their studies online in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter (below) to the dean, vice-dean and director of undergraduate programmes, the students outline a wide range of areas where they are dissatisfied with the Russell Group uni’s handling of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The student representatives, who write on behalf of the undergraduate law student body, say they “have never seen this worrying level of anxiety, exhaustion, burnout and an overall feeling of helplessness from the student body”. They find the workload to be “overwhelming” and that they “cannot get through the material”.

“[S]tudents have been spending every single weekend preparing for the next week,” they write. “Several students have stated that this year, they have sacrificed everything else just to be able to somehow pace themselves with the material.”

They have “reached a point where [they] cannot withstand the pressure from the workload any longer”.

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The letter, which Legal Cheek understands has received the backing of more than 230 UCL law students across all three years at the time of publication, goes on to raise concerns about “the significant mental and physical challenges of studying in isolation” and the effect on students. These include the amount of screen time that they have faced which they claim is “unhealthy” and “unsustainable”.

“Sitting at a desk, staring at your screen for an average of 8-10 hours a day has drained any remaining energy,” the group continues. “Headaches, migraines, eye twitching are now the norm. Students have been pushing through despite having severe physical problems as they feel that if they take a break of even one day, they will fall further behind.”

Further, the student group say that “time taken to go out and get essentials, care for family members, adhere to safety regulations, sanitise and wipe everything is a draining task which is still heavily continued to ensure health and safety”.

They have called on the faculty to “reduce the substantive workload”, which they concede, “has not increased per se from previous years”. “Covering the same breadth of syllabus in the same depth is unfeasible”, they write, and “will lead to unimaginable stress and anxiety while exacerbating any existing mental health conditions”.

The group also acknowledge that some of their demands have been met: the playback speed of recorded material can be alternated and transcripts are now available, for example.

A spokesperson for UCL said: “The pandemic has presented students and staff with huge challenges and we understand that some are feeling overwhelmed. Under any circumstances, law as a discipline requires a large amount of reading and studying.”

They added that the law faculty has adapted teaching and reviewed the syllabus, as well as put in place measures to increase academic mentoring, including additional tutor time and drop-in sessions. They have also created ‘student success advisors’ who are calling every first-year student to offer support.

The spokesperson continued:

“The safety, health and wellbeing of our students is our highest priority. We encourage students to rest and take screen breaks and balance their studies with other activities, even in these difficult times. For any student feeling overwhelmed, we would strongly urge them to contact their personal tutor, discuss any module they are worried about with the lead lecturer, or speak directly to our director for undergraduate programmes.”

Read the letter in full:

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