BA vs BSc: How Departments Have Handled the Coronavirus Pandemic

Brooke Davies

The age-old feud between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees is shown to be soldiering on through this global health crisis, which in itself provides a fine opportunity to see which departments have provided the most support in this time of uncertainty.

At first glance, it would appear BA departments should be able to get off lightly; essays play a huge role in assessments, both coursework and examinations. This allows for many assessments to be left unchanged, or simply moved from closed to open exam conditions. Moreover, much learning comes from the reading required outside of contact hours, most of which is now available online.

However, the complacency of BA students should not be overestimated. Students are still expected to produce high quality work without the right material and technology, accompanied with a lack of clear guidance.

Morrison Wilson, a second-year History student, has described his department’s response as “not excellent to be honest”, adding, “they won’t mark leniently despite the fact we are all restricted… we can’t access a lot of the materials as the library is closed”. 

In an email to their students, the department reveals that students should not expect any leniency: “we can’t mark more leniently because it isn’t possible to do that when marking involves matching work to grade descriptors”.

So, are BSc departments doing any better? The answer in short: kind of. Science departments have arguably had a bigger challenge to face; labs and workshops will obviously have to run very differently, both teaching and assessment, which at first glance appears to be a logistical nightmare. However, efforts have been made to overcome this glaring difficulty, with either tutorials being streamed online or the material being moved to written exams.

Victoria Worthington, a Business Management, Accounting and Finance student believes her various departments to have coped well overall: “they’re good with keeping us up-to-date and have given us extensions on all outstanding work”.

Again, however, this leniency is not found across all BSc departments, with Chemistry students being told their department still expects the same amount of preparation for these streamed tutorials as they would if the university buildings were not closed, hinting that they have forgotten why they were closed in the first place. 

The Department of Chemistry have responded with, ‘In line with University policy, Chemistry is attempting to deliver all its regular teaching through substitute, online activities, including synchronous small-group tutorials, recorded lectures and lab work simulated by the distribution of sample data. The onus has been on maintaining teaching content and assessment; there is no additional teaching and no additional assessment.’

So, where do we stand on who has done it better? BSc or BA? In all honesty, no department has stood out in ensuring their students’ well-being. It should be appreciated that all departments have had to put in place measures they never imagined they’d have to, while having to maintain some guidelines put in place by the University. 

But completing any work during a pandemic is difficult. It is hard to focus energies towards academia when the mind is full of anxieties, and it is worth remembering this when, like many others, you are feeling guilty for not producing the work your department requires of you.