Online learning has instituted an extremely isolated and much less interactive university experience. Much of students’ interactions with lecturers, tutors, course administrators, faculty administrators, financial aid administrators, etc. have been exclusively online, making for a more disengaged response from administrators towards student queries.
While some students have mentioned that their tutors, lecturers and course convenors have been relatively understanding with regards to students’ academic capabilities in relation to mental health, connectivity, and a number of other factors, the problem starts to arise when students have to reach out to administrators that are not directly related to their coursework.
The topic surrounding lack of communication from university administrators is not a new one, and in fact has been going on for quite a while, but has been amplified immensely now that the only point of contact for most university students has been via email.
Students have voiced complaints towards financial aid and fees offices in particular.
One second-year student recalls an incident in which she overpaid fees towards her institution and received close to no aid in having that excess amount repaid to her account.
She mentions that this incident occurred during her first year of university, and since then, having performed all the necessary requirements and filled in all the necessary paperwork in order to have her money refunded, she still has not heard any communication with regards to that process now that she is about to reach the end of her second year of study.
She shares that each time she sends emails to follow up on this issue, she receives nothing but an automated response from her university’s fee offices saying that they are experiencing a high volume of emails.
Furthermore, in speaking to financial aid students, the overwhelming consensus has been that clear communication between students and financial aid programme administrations such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been almost non-existent since operations have been moved online.
Many students have shared that they were not notified that their applications for funding had been successful, and would oftentimes only find out that their studies were being funded on the occasion that they would check their fee statements and find that their fees have already been covered through financial aid.
This mimics the experience of another second-year student who shared her frustrations with the processes of communication practiced by NSFAS.
She reveals that she spent months pursuing her studies during her first year, not having any idea whether or not her studies would be funded, and worrying over the potential of having to cover all her fees on her own.
Although she does share that her university financial aid offices have been more responsive than NSFAS administrators have been in helping her put her “mind at ease”, she does say that despite their continued reassurance that she would be informed if something were to go wrong, they still have not been able to answer many of her queries.
As it stands, whether the pandemic begins to die down in the near future or not, online learning looks to be something that institutions would want to pursue for years to come, and if that is the case, it is necessary for online communication between students and administrators to become much more reliable.