AMS COVID-19 survey shows student budget struggles, expected virtual learning challenges

An AMS COVID-19 survey has found that students have lost jobs and now have inadequate funding for their rent and tuition payments. Many respondents indicated that they were uncomfortable with online learning, some due to a lack of access to the required technology.

Earlier this month, the AMS released the preliminary results of its university-wide COVID-19 survey undertaken in collaboration with the Graduate Student Society (GSS) and the UBC Planning and Institutional Research Office to understand the financial, academic and personal well-being concerns of UBC students during the pandemic.

Final results will be released in August.

The number of respondents, 5,989, was almost double that of the 2019 AMS Academic Experience Survey.

“COVID-19 has heightened our sense of responsibility … Now is their time to speak up and voice all these different gaps that they’ve been seeing,” said Georgia Yee, AMS VP academic and university affairs.

Rent and tuition concerns

The survey found that 34.6 per cent of students were unexpectedly laid off from their jobs, and 60.2 per cent of employed students are not currently receiving income from their scheduled shifts.

['auto'] Courtesy AMS

“Impact has been very broad,” said Nicolas Romualdi, GSS VP university and academic affairs, saying that students should not be financially penalized for matters outside their control.

Yee said that the AMS is pushing for increased student job funding from the province and more opportunities in the UBC Work Learn program.

When asked about covering living and tuition expenses, two in five respondents reported needing more funding from scholarships, bursaries and student loans.

Four out of five students found UBC and the federal government’s response inadequate in addressing student housing affordability.

['auto'] Courtesy AMS

Romualdi said it was important “not only to address the needs that came out of COVID in itself, but to really think through the systemic deficiencies in funding that exist in graduate school” so that they can be improved from the ground up.

Kimani Karangu, president of the GSS, added that the financial aid put in place should not be withdrawn after the crisis.

“I believe the change that has come now is going to be with us for a long time,” he said.

Challenges of virtual learning

With the shift to online learning, more than half of students disagreed that they could engage well with their courses through independent study and online lectures.

['auto'] Courtesy AMS

“Sixty per cent of graduate students have indicated that there are personal issues that are affecting their ability to carry out their duties,” said Romualdi, saying that one in two indicated they had inadequate space to carry out their academic work, according to preliminary results.

Moreover, one in five students will be in a non-PST zone for fall 2020. Many of these students have an 8–14 hour time difference from PST, impacting their ability to attend online lectures and office hours.

“Instructors are going to have the possibility to offer their courses in more than one schedule, and there’s also a push to asynchronous types of teaching,” said Romualdi.

Over 30 per cent of respondents also indicated that they were either unsure of or do not have access to the required technology for virtual learning — an obstacle that can only exacerbate financial stress. Bursaries are available for those students, Yee said.

Notably, first-year students are meeting the challenge of transitioning to university academics while adapting to online learning. Yee said the AMS was pushing for better funding for first-year orientations programming.

Declining well-being

Sixty-five per cent of respondents acknowledged an overall negative impact on mental health due to the large-scale changes following the onset of the pandemic.

['auto'] Courtesy AMS

“This is indicative of a larger gap in these services for mental health,” said Yee. “ … UBC has a long way to go.”

“Mental wellness was one of the key areas that we have seriously given our attention to,” said Karangu. Romualdi added that graduate students can contact the GSS if they are experiencing any issues.

“We are dealing with a situation that nobody ever expected,” said Karangu. “We want people to be safe, and we also want them to progress with their lives.”