IR focus group voices concerns with School

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Photo: Jonathon Skavroneck

The Saint recently acquired a document compiled by School of International Relations class representatives that details concerns expressed in a focus group of second-year students. In addition to module evaluation questionnaires, the School of IR collects student feedback through focus groups and surveys conducted throughout the year.

The document centres on a late-February discussion of student experiences with the school’s curriculum, teaching, and assessment.

The focus group was composed of six IR students representing a diverse cross-section of students within the School, according to the document.

The School of IR is one of the largest at the University, with at least 400 students enrolled in sub-honours lectures. The School took its current form in 2003 after becoming a department in 1990.

It is consistently ranked as one of the top Schools of IR in the UK and world in terms of research and teaching.

Despite this, the group of students interviewed by the class reps agreed that the School needed to make improvements, especially concerning assessment and contact hours. They explained that assessment was “very inconsistent.”

This issue stems from tutors having different expectations for students when assessing essays, a large part of the IR curriculum. Although the School employs a standard rubric for essay assessment, students in the focus group felt that personal expectations were not being adequately communicated by tutors.

Another area of dissatisfaction is the essay extension policy. Extensions are given by tutors on a per-case basis. Currently, there is no standardisation. Students complained that extensions are also inconsistent and some tutors can be “much harsher than others.”

The outgoing Students’ Association director of representation, Jack Carr, has long identified irregularity of extenuating circumstance policy as an issue facing the University as a whole.

In a February interview, he told The Saint that, while a standard policy is in the final stages, it is unlikely to be implemented before the next academic year.

The focus group also expressed a sentiment held by many IR students: that the School does not offer enough contact hours in sub-honours lectures. Those in second-year modules have just two hours of lectures per week.

According to the focus group, some students have difficulty perceiving IR as their main subject because most modules offer more contact time than their IR counterparts.

International students were “especially upset” at the cost for non-EU students per contact hour. The report estimated the price at up to £120 for one hour.

Those interviewed believed that another hour of contact time per week would improve their experience.

They also concluded that the increased hours would be a “more-than-fair-trade” if the School plans to opt out of implementing lecture capture.

Last month, The Saint learned that the School of IR was directly opposed to the implementation of lecture capture.

The technology would allow students to view recorded lectures online.

An international relations class representative, who did not wish to be named due to academic concerns, told The Saint, “During a staff-student consulting committee meeting, senior staff members within the School of International Relations expressed that they were not feeling confident about the use of video-captured university lectures.

“If the university was to implement this policy as compulsory, the school would actively fight it.”

Currently, the proposal would implement lecture capture across the University’s schools. As it stands, schools that employ the technology include the School of Medicine and the School of Computer Science.

Second year IR class representative Gavrilo Stajkovac said, “I think it will be very useful for students in the school, but I also understand the concerns, namely the issue of ownership rights and controversial statements which has been raised by the school.

“And that is why I believe that debate should be formed around this question and students should get involved.”

Jack Thomson, a second year IR student, added, “Although it would make our lives easier to record lectures, I understand that lecturers might be opposed so as to encourage us to show up and to stop themselves from being quoted out of context.

“If the [lecture] slides are on MMS, I don’t see the big issue.”

Furthermore, the focus group expressed concern over the lack of study spaces available to IR students.

“We’re the largest school in Arts and Divinity, and we don’t have a library or even a study space dedicated to our students,” the report stated. “Students feel that this puts us at a disadvantage in terms of study space and research materials.”

Two candidates in this year’s IR School presidency race pledged to fight for more IR study spaces, including the subsequent winner, Sarah Gharib.

Despite these concerns, the focus group concluded that overall, students were enjoying second-year content and teaching.

They expressed the concerns as a way of further improving their experience.

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