Late returns of essays will restrict student learning

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A few weeks ago, a letter was published in SCAN from an anonymous third year student lamenting the abuse of the four-week feedback policy by the university. Without this feedback, it is much harder to realise our mistakes and areas for improvement, and if we do not have our work returned to us in time, there is always the possibility that we will have submitted yet another piece of work before learning what we have done wrong before. The four-week return policy is one that should be stuck to by all departments, for their sake as well as our own.

When I look at it, four weeks is, essentially, a month. This is adequate time for a tutor to correct, grade, comment on and return a piece of work – when I was still at school, it was considered abnormal if I didn’t receive work back the very same week, let alone a whole month down the line. Yet despite the ever-rising cost of tuition, departments continually flout the policy, with coursework sometimes taking five or even six weeks to find its way back into our hands. Yes, those who work in the departments have other things to do, but assessing us on our development should be a higher priority than it seems to be now.

What surprised me about the letter was the reaction of the writer’s department – surely it is a reasonable request, to ask to see your work? The University’s policy is that work should be back within four weeks, and I don’t believe it to be unreasonable to ask to see it after this time. If it isn’t quite marked, then that is one matter which can be forgiven, provided that marking is finished soon after, and that it only happens now and again. However, being confrontational with students for something that is, ultimately, the fault of those marking the work doesn’t quite sound right to me. Students learning from their mistakes is important, not just for the students, but also for the departments.

Ultimately, it is the performance of students that demonstrates the quality of a department, and therefore a university. It is counterproductive if students don’t get an opportunity to improve upon previous errors between assignments, which can happen if work isn’t returned in time. As coursework deadlines pile up, if the four-week return policy isn’t rigidly enforced, it can lead to students submitting work before having previous assignments returned, completely undermining the process of learning from our own mistakes. This is not very helpful for students, but also counterproductive for the departments that we represent to the world.

As tuition fees rise, higher education is becoming more of a commodity. The relationship between teacher and student is slowly being replaced by one between business and customer. We are currently paying around £3000 a year for our degree, which will rise in a couple of years. For this price, I do not believe that we would be receiving good customer service if we didn’t have work returned within the month. To me, a month seems like an absolutely massive period of time to mark work in, time which we could be using to improve upon our previous efforts, whatever our previous mistakes and successes were.

As the fight for tuition fees dies down, now that the battle is essentially lost, the focus for student unions across the country turns to fighting for value for money from our universities. If we want a degree that is worth £27000, we deserve to be given a chance to improve on everything we do, every essay, every test, every assignment. This is why I feel the rules on the four-week return should be made more rigid, in order that students can get an education that warrants this incredibly high price. Even if the departments are unhappy about this, I can say without doubt that this would allow students a better chance to learn from their mistakes, and that this would reflect very well upon them, and lead to greater success for Lancaster as a whole.

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