Credit: Student Representative Council

Staff claim surging student numbers despite University denial

By Kimberley Mannion and Emma Padner

With the increased number of students this year, some professors have faced disruptions to their courses.

Since the start of the new academic year, many University staff, including vocally the University and College Union (UCU) have reported noticing a significant increase in student numbers, which they say is having an impact on their quality of teaching. However, the University maintains in its official line that there has been no significant increase in student numbers this year. 

In response to the University’s assertion of no substantial increase, Rosie Hampton, the University of Glasgow branch of the UCU’s Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) representative, says “It doesn’t match the lived experience of staff working across the University. Members in some departments have had to run first-year lecture slots more than once, despite never having done so before. One of the union’s key concerns is around excessive workloads, and this year has made a difficult situation for staff worse.”

Referencing figures from the University’s website showing a 16% increase in student numbers between 2020/21 and 2021/22, where in previous years the difference was only around 2-4%, Rosie continued: “I’m hourly paid, so if I have more students, but no further allocated hours, that just means I’ve got less time to dedicate to each student. Or I end up working for nothing, which I know a lot of GTAs end up having to do.”

“In the union we often say staff working conditions are student learning conditions, and I think this year we’re seeing that acutely with increased student numbers,” said Rosie. When The Glasgow Guardian asked about the impact this strain on staff has on students, we were told: “I really feel for the students. We’ve heard of some really serious issues around accessibility because teaching spaces are completely full to the brim, with a lessening of accessible rooms, and that’s simply unjust.” 

Michael Heaney, a lecturer in Politics and research methods, and Thees Spreckelsen, a lecturer in research methods, who teach a postgraduate social science lecture together called Research Design, have told The Glasgow Guardian of practical challenges they are facing as a result. Since Research Design is a school-wide course for the School of Social Sciences, it has always been large. However, the course has essentially tripled in size in the last five years, from about 250 students to about 750 students in a live Zoom room this semester, according to Heaney. 

This increase has led to difficulties for the staff. Though the University has licences for classes with an online capacity of over 500, the lecturers were unaware of the Zoom room limit, and only had a Zoom room that could hold a maximum of 500. “We countered that in front of the class,” Heaney added. “What we did was we resolved the issue by creating an overflow room, running the class on two different computers.”

The issue was able to be fixed for the following week with a licence for 500-1000 students granted by the IT department. “[Heaney] and I are very keen to do this live, which, you know, given the size of class obviously, poses a challenge,” Speckelson said. “But that also means some of the things that you see, they only work online, like the way we engage with the chat, but it also doesn’t always work the way we’d like to. [Heaney] and I are both always kind of keen to do justice to all the comments that we had and responses to our questions, but as would be with any live event, it’s a challenge.”

Keeping such a large course online rather than in person is important because they believe it allows students to participate more, despite the large number of students. Heaney said that students in large courses are more likely to participate through the chat function in Zoom than to stand up in front of large classes and speak. 

Heaney added that he and Speckelsen have worked hard to maximise the positives with having such a large class, and enjoy teaching a course with diverse subjects and students across the School of Social Sciences. 

“We’re doing our absolute best to harness the best we can out of the situation, and I think there are a lot of positives,” Heaney added. “Now, that’s not to say that it isn’t frustrating when you log on and you can’t get, you know, you can’t get everybody into your Zoom Room, you know, that’s frustrating. But we dealt with that, you know, I think we dealt with that, and it was unfortunate, but it also wasn’t the end of the world.”

Correction: A previous version of the article mentioned the lecturers were unaware their class would exceed 500 students. The lecturers knew the class had more than 500 students, but they were unaware of the Zoom room limit. The article has been updated for accuracy.


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