OULC logo on top of an illustration of a student looking onto a lecture theatre portrayed as a glass box

OULC open letter: Oxford must continue lecture recordings for disabled students

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Image description: OULC logo on top of an illustration of a student looking onto a lecture theatre portrayed as a glass box

Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) have written and circulated an “Open Letter on the Provision of Lecture Recordings for Disabled Students”, written by their disabilities representative. The open letter (signable here), posted on their Facebook page in late June, is to be sent to the university administration “in solidarity with disabled students that have been ignored for far too long”.

This follows an investigation conducted by The Oxford Student in May 2020, which revealed that: “Disabled students promised access to recorded lectures has been consistently denied this support by the University since its recommended implementation in 2016”. In spite of this, the university has been able to record all lectures this term in support of remote learning, as necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The open letter begins by outlining the issue, in which many disabled students within Oxford University have been affected by the university’s failure to provide much-needed lectures. It then goes on to explain that: “Disabled students face a range of issues such as finding it hard to keep concentration over a full hour, or pay attention to a lecture whilst taking notes, that means they require recorded lectures.” The letter also refers to the 2010 Equality Act, which mandates that lecture recordings are provided to any disabled student who needs them.

“OULC stands for equality in all walks of life, and we believe that no student at Oxford should be denied the required resources to complete their degree.” OULC asks that “progress in providing lecture recordings is not lost after this term.”

Whilst this remote Trinity has proved lecture recording to be possible, in the past, there has been evidence of lecturers “tampering with lecture recording equipment or consistently “forgetting” to turn it on” when disabled students have asked for these recordings. To combat this, OULC asks that lecturers are given training regarding lecture recordings and why they are essential for disabled students, as well as asking that there be full investigations into “any instances where lecturers have tampered with lecture recording equipment, making clear that this is unacceptable”.

When approached for comment, the Co-Chair of OULC said: “Disabled students deserve to be given the resources they need to study in Oxford, and I wrote this open letter in order to highlight that. I’ve personally been in touch with disabled students who’ve been very angry that they haven’t been given lecture recordings they’re legally entitled to in the past – I can only imagine their anger if the university goes back on its progress in providing lecture recordings with this term. The university should prove its commitment to equality by maintaining the provision of lecture capture demonstrated during this Trinity Term, pandemic or no pandemic.”

OULC also highlights the additional problems faced by students who are yet undiagnosed, “Even when departments do provide recordings to disabled students, students whose disabilities are undiagnosed, in the process of diagnosis, or students who are unwilling to take the sometimes uncomfortable process of disclosing their disability, are unable to access recordings.” Whilst the suggested solution is for all departments to release recordings universally, a report by the Oxford Student Union shows that only 5 out of 26 departments did this in 2018.

The letter suggests an “opt-out” system to replace the current procedures, by which a department would be forced to explain why they will not be supplying lecture recordings for students, and thus discouraging departments from doing so without a legitimate reason.

The letter also asks that the university does not use these recordings if lecturers are on strike, hence addressing their concerns about the recordings being used to undermine their right to strike. Lecturer’s concerns that sharing recordings will lead to a lower turnout to lectures can be counter-acted by data from a trial in 2016 which suggests that lecture capture, in fact, increased attendance to lectures.

In the investigation by The Oxford Student, it is reported that disabled students have had the right to record lectures themselves without personal permission from the lecturer since 2014, “but self-recordings are often poor quality, the process can disclose a student as disabled leading to unwanted remarks, and they don’t allow students to catch up if they have been unable to attend a lecture for unavoidable disability-related reasons.”

The Oxford Student also contacted several departments about their plans to record lectures in future terms and to maintain the availability of lectures that have already been recorded. Minutes from a Biochemistry Joint Consultative Committee meeting held on the 4th of May stated that “the University has recommended that recorded lectures should be available to students until they have been completed any assessments related to that lecture course”; however, this policy is contradicted by the Medical Science Division’s decision to keep recordings until the end of the summer holidays only.

“Disabled students deserve to be given the resources they need to study in Oxford, and I wrote this open letter in order to highlight that. I’ve personally been in touch with disabled students who’ve been very angry that they haven’t been given lecture recordings they’re legally entitled to in the past – I can only imagine their anger if the university goes back on its progress in providing lecture recordings with this term. The university should prove its commitment to equality by maintaining the provision of lecture capture demonstrated during this Trinity Term, pandemic or no pandemic.”

OULC’s letter ends: “We believe that these measures can make sure that, going forward, Oxford is an inclusive and welcoming learning environment for all, and show that it stands by its disabled students.”

Image credit: OULC Facebook and Josh Boddington, The OxStu

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