Students left stranded as travel plans go up in smoke

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The recent air travel disruption caused by volcanic eruptions in Iceland has caused chaos for students returning to Lancaster. Many students who travelled abroad during the Easter break had their classes, coursework and examinations interrupted as they were left stranded overseas.

Michelle McShane, a third-year Law student, was due to fly back to the UK from Shanghai the day before term started. However, her flight was delayed and subsequently cancelled, forcing her to stay for two more weeks. She was among 100 UK students selected for a three-week course in China to learn Chinese language, economy and history.

“I considered getting the train to Russia but it takes days and I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to acquire the necessary visa for entry,” she said. “I stayed in Shanghai to secure my visa extension and be close by to collect it from the embassy during the week.”

McShane was concerned about her dissertation and exams, telling SCAN that “[The dissertation] is 15,000-words long and […] I still had 6,000 words to finish which I was hoping to do in the two weeks I should’ve had left when I returned. I’m not sure what will happen with regards to my exams. I’ve got no revision materials here and I would normally be starting my revision now.”

Earth and Environmental Sciences student David Heptinstall was in Sicily with 23 other students and three lecturers on a field trip to Mount Etna. Their flight was cancelled after they boarded the plane.

“Two masters students on the trip were asked to take charge as [the lecturers] went on the other side of the island installing a camera on Mount Etna,” he said. “So we stayed in the nearby city of Trapani. When we were reunited with the lecturers they decided to do an additional day in the field up Mount Etna. Alternative transportation routes were initially considered but it was decided to wait until Thursday when our flight was [rescheduled].”

The group eventually returned to Lancaster by coach.

The university’s various academic departments received positive comments from students for their responsiveness in overcoming the hurdles caused by the disruption.

John Ang, a first year Accounting and Finance student left stranded in Singapore, said: “My studies were not affected much as I managed to inform [the] respective departments about my situation and they were very understanding. Besides most lecture notes are online […] so it was not a problem.”

“I missed one week’s lectures and tutorials but both department, Economics and Accounting [and Finance] were very helpful,” said Chandrika Bengani from Jaipur, in India. “The Economics department postponed a test while the Accounting department postponed a group presentation and a project report submission deadline.”

“The university and the [Environmental Science] department were generally brilliant in this case,” said Heptinstall. “The morning [after flight cancellation], we got confirmation that the university would pay for all the accommodation expenses. The university agreed to cancel the exam for the volcanics course. The department arranged coursework extensions. The head of the departmental board that reviews the grades given told that if required, she’d fight our case.”

Tom Finnigan, Director of Student Based Services said: “We started to monitor the situation from [the] last week [of Easter break], once it become apparent that travel would be disrupted.

“I sent an email to departments to remind them that there are already procedures and processes in place to cater for disruption to teaching and examinations so that all students would be treated equitably. Departments will take all steps possible to ameliorate the impact on students,” he added.

Departments have been directed to allow second- and third-year students undertaking examinations during this period to take another examination as soon as reasonably possible within this term. In addition, second-year students may be allowed to take alternative assessments.

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