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Ooft – where to begin. 

Things go wrong at uni at the best of times, and UMSU’s Advocacy Service is here to help you navigate the often complex world of policies and procedures that govern how you and the University interact. Our advice on a range of issues you may normally face at uni is here. However, this is no ordinary time, so we have scraped our inbox and the social media comments and messages you are sending us for some general answers to the big ticket items on your minds right now. Don’t forget – if your concerns aren’t addressed here – at all or sufficiently – then please get in touch here!

The Vice-Chancellor has directed the entire University to pause all teaching, learning, assessment and examinations for the remainder of the week ending Friday 27 March 2020 with further teaching activities to begin from Monday 30 March.

It appears some optional classes and pracs might still be offered this week – but if you are being told you must attend (face to face on online) classes or assessment up until 30 March – you should report it to the Dean of the Faculty and let us know. We are communicating all of your concerns to the University regularly.
If you are an international student and need to reduce your study load this semester due to COVID-19 disruptions – you can now do this and still maintain your visa by providing a personal statement instead of the usual supporting documentation. You can submit a request here.

It is essential to get advice from the University’s course planning team to make sure you are making a properly informed decision. You need to remember that reducing your study load now might extend the time it takes to graduate. That means you’ll need a new Certificate of Enrolment (CoE) – and you should make sure you request a new CoE before the current due date expires. However, there may be ways to avoid extending your course – and you can discuss a plan for your remaining subjects and catching up by completing winter and/or summer subjects with the University’s course advising team.
Since 20 March, all students, including international student visa holders can study online without restriction for first semester 2020. After this, we are not so sure. Monash University has been quick to reassure its international students that they are setting up “distance flexible study options for both semesters 1 and 2, and we're adapting the way we assess your learning and competency, to support your progression through your course despite the changes”.

However, at this stage the University of Melbourne is not committing to anything for semester 2. That means it remains a risk you might get stuck back home and not be able to continue your studies online in semester 2. We have raised this issue with the University and will keep pushing for them to address it so you have clarity and can make informed decisions.
Yes, the University’s library services have moved to virtual delivery, and the bricks and mortar buildings are closed. However, the University is waiving fines for loans that students were not able to return prior to the physical closure on 24 March 2020.
Firstly, it’s important to note that a number of measures, such as waiving attendance hurdles and online assessment applies to all students – you don’t need special consideration for these adjustments to apply.

In the current context, the University has taken on board UMSU’s recommendation that documentary requirements for special consideration be relaxed. Currently the University will accept a Statutory Declaration explaining how your study has been affected. This includes anyone who is unwell during the semester but does not seek medical advice in order to avoid contact with contagion or burdening the health system. You won’t need an HPR form if you do a statutory declaration.

Other reasons connected to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis may be accepted – it will be assessed on a case by case basis.

You can obtain a statutory declaration here. You can get it witnessed by a chemist or at your local police station or by anyone on this list. Before you fill it out, we recommend contacting us to get some feedback on your explanation to make sure it addresses the critical issues.

If things change, and it becomes impossible to get a statutory declaration witnessed, the University will need to consider waiving this requirement.

We are also aware of potential changes to the laws about witnessing documents which may allow for electronic witnessing. We will keep you posted on this.
If you are having access difficulties and need any kind of support or adjustments due to a disability or other ongoing/chronic circumstance, the first thing to do is contact Student Equity and Disability Services (SEDS) via Stop 1. They should be able to help you with these matters. If you are having trouble accessing this assistance – let us know!

Some other unis are offering students support – such as a technology bursary, crisis support scholarships, and emergency relief to pay for essentials. We will continue to press this with the University for more financial and practical help for students.
All standard semester 1 subjects now have a  revised census and fee due date of 30 April. That means you can withdraw up until the end of April and pay no fees. If you were enrolled in non-standard subjects with a census date from 20 March onwards, the University has committed to revising those dates proportionately to the changes made to the standard subject census date. That is, pushing them back by a month.
Many of you suggest that online courses are usually cheaper and so you should pay a lesser amount for them. While UMSU understands this response – we have observed that many online course fees are the same, or even more expensive than face to face courses – so that may not be a great argument for fee discounting by itself. However, many of you are genuinely concerned about the potential quality of the online offerings this semester, in some cases put together very quickly by staff who have not delivered online courses before. Others of you are in subjects which really require face to face interaction or specific facilities for the optimal educational experience.

We are also keen to work with students, and to continue to pressure the University to address the financial hardship being experienced by many students.

Moving towards online modes of teaching and learning will no doubt have its challenges. As subject coordinators begin to release material for their courses through the LMS, it is important that students let their lecturers and tutors know how they are finding the offerings – we hope they will be interactive, stimulating and informative. 

As this experience evolves it will become clearer whether there is a basis for any kind of fee discount or other offsets, or potentially other forms of consumer protection compensation. As such, we encourage you to take note of situations where the online delivery of teaching has been unsatisfactory, as this may be used in future if individually requesting compensation. 

We would also encourage you to raise these issues as they happen with your relevant subject coordinators as it is this feedback which will no doubt assist in improving delivery material online. For these reasons we are requesting the University give consideration to a discount or other reduction or offset to course fees in lieu of the usual experience.
It would be ridiculous for the University to suggest that the current circumstances will not affect students’ grades (among other things!) and given the significance of your WAM for all sorts of reasons, we agree that the Uni needs to work out a way to protect everyone’s WAM from the impacts of COVID this year.

The idea of a pass/fail grading system has become a common theme in your contact with us – however it is also contentious among students – as many of you writing to us asking for a pass/fail grading scheme are telling us why they don’t want it. While many of you are worried your marks are going to take a hit, there are also many who are hoping to improve their WAM this semester, so a blanket pass/fail grading would be problematic for them.

We think there should be other ways to protect results this year.

Some universities have instituted a system where students can choose to receive a "no record COVID-19" result, giving students a choice about whether they wish the full range of marks to be available or not.

We are aware that La Trobe university is guaranteeing that any failing grades this semester will not be recorded as such on transcripts or in the WAM – although this does not protect against a lower but still passing grade as a result of this semester’s disruptions.

Another idea would be that the University provide students with a guarantee that their results from this semester, and any teaching period which is substantially affected by COVID-19, are given a significant reduction in weighting which would minimise any negative impact on your WAM, and that the University sets a threshold below which any impact on your WAM will not be recorded – that is a minimum WAM no matter what.

UMSU is taking these issues to the University and keeping the pressure on to find a way of minimising detriment to students as a result of COVID-19. Our President is in communication with Chancellery every day, and we will keep students posted on developments.
Some students were concerned that their scholarship payments, which normally are disbursed directly after census date, would be delayed due to the pushback of semester long subject census date to 30 April. The University has committed to paying these scholarships on the originally scheduled date of 17 April.

These are just some of your questions at the moment – if we haven’t addressed it here please contact the Advocacy Service. If we can’t help directly, we will raise your concerns with the University, as we have with all of these issues above.

Check your student emails from the University and read the UniMelb COVID-19 website here.

Read Victorian Department of Health and Human Services to find out about state-wide policy and regulations here.

Look at the Victorian Health and Human Services website here.