Combined honours students face mistreatment

 “It’s not that Combined Honours students aren’t as valued, it’s just that priority is given to single honours.”

Combined Honours students are enduring unjustified discrimination within their course, as schools choose to priortise single honours students.
During the last academic year many students who have chosen to study combined degrees have faced problems of unfair treatment due to their lack of direct association with a single school.
This has included being unable to register to certain modules, reduced opportunities to attend course related workshops, failing to be included within distribution lists and not having access to relevant Blackboard information.
Other students studying joint courses have received their assessment marks later than those doing single honours, with some exam scripts going missing altogether.
One third-year, studying History and English Literature, who chose Newcastle specifically for the strength of the School of Historical Studies modules looking into American Civil Rights, was told that single honours students took priority over combined students.
The email from a senior lecturer read: “I am sorry to hear about your disappointment in not being able to study your first choice module, but as you must appreciate, students studying History as a single honours must have first claim on the available options”.
This particular student was then cautioned against pursing a dissertation on a topic in which they had already shown a vested interest, with the email reading: “It is not the case that you will be debarred from working on Civi Rights. If anything we tend to caution against work across two modules”.
This was not the first time the student was left disappointed, having missed out on a first choice module the previous year, even though the application was made only two minutes after the module choice selection opened.
Problems of module selection has also arisen in the past, with combined students receiving emails regarding a module briefing just fifteen minutes before it was scheduled to start.
There has also been a problem between two different schools when exam papers were misplaced.
Five students studying English and Classics received an email with the rest of the students, informing them that they had feedback to collect. However, when they arrived to pick up the marks at both the Historical Studies Office and the English Office, they were unaware as to where the papers where.
They were told how they had been lost in the internal postage system. As a result, the students were sent photocopies a week after the rest of the students had received their results, with still no sign of the original transcripts.
Furthermore, some Combined Honours students studying Psychology were only able to access their exam results three days after the rest of the students sitting the same exam.
Daniel Ashall, Chair of the Combined Honours Student Staff Committee (SSC) said: “There should be simple solutions around the issues. Students should simply be able to be attached to mailing lists.
“Its not that Combined Honours students aren’t important, it’s just that priority is given to single honours students.
“Departments are making a conscious effort to amend things. But menial things such as adding people to mailing lists and Blackboard communities should come naturally, along with the fact that some Combined Honours students are receiving correspondence that they shouldn’t.
“When students are left off from resources such as Blackboard it becomes problematic. For example, different schools have different methods of referencing, so when it comes to essays, combined students who don’t have access to the community are at a disadvantage.
“There are some technical problems that are out of the hands of some schools hands, and we are always working on these issues to try and remedy them.
“I believe the problems of some our students sometimes seemed to be overlooked. Even though there is cooperation from departments, we continually face issues on both a large and small scale”.
Colin Bryson, Director of the Combined Honours Centre said: “Studying Combined Honours offers many advantages to students, particularly flexibility and considerable autonomy in navigating through the degree choosing preferred subjects and modules.
“However this flexibility raises inevitable issues as students will not be studying all their modules within one subject. Any disadvantages arising are not the intention of staff, and the Combined Honours SSC and myself are working hard to alleviate any negative impact of such issues”.
Newcastle Students’ Union Education Officer, Liam Dale said: “Studying Combined Honours can be so valuable, giving students a greater opportunity for choice of modules and subject areas. This should be celebrated rather than students being ‘punished’ for choosing this option.
“The fact that these students are still being treated unfavourably compared to single honours students is completely unacceptable. These problems appear to be based locally in different schools and appear quite minor yet would have significant impacts on the affected students. Due to the nature of these issues, it seems that they can be resolved easily by the relevant schools and they should be seeking to do so immediately.”
Another third-year Combined Honours student said: “The Combined Honours school itself is brilliant, and they always do all they can for you.
“However, on most courses you are counted as not as important as their full time students. Particularly in English, where you aren’t offered enough support or help anyway.
“But mostly, I love the variety that my course offers me and the choice of my modules means I have got to do a course that is perfect for me.”
Another third year Combined Honours student said: “Combined honours students take on a lot of responsibility when they start their degrees such as managing their own timetables and anticipating clashing deadlines, and they are fully aware of this when they start first year.
“However, it would be ten times easier, and fairer, if schools could tighten up their communication with combined students and treat them like they do any single or joint honours student.
“It would be interesting to find out of joint honours students suffer this discrimination from any schools too.”
Newcastle University’s equality policy suggests that: “all students and all employees are treated on the basis or their relevant merits and abilities and are given equal opportunities within the University.
“No prospective student or student, job applicant or employee, should reieve less favourable treatment on any grounds which are not relevant to academic ability and attainment for students or to good employment practice for employees”.
Combined Honours students have always been faced with more problems than many other students. Two years ago, the University tried to remove the opportunity to undertake a Combined Honours degree at Newcastle University.
However, a student-led petition quashed the proposal, and new undergraduate students are still able to opt into a degree which allows more variety than many others.
Despite this, communication problems are still prevalent, even though the issue is trying to be continually resolved.
This has brought into question whether certain schools see Combined Honours students as being outside their subjects by prioritising their single honours students.
If any other students are experiencing similar issues, or any other problems relating to courses, they should contact Education Officer Liam Dale at education.union@ncl.ac.uk.

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