Module mayhem marks the start of another academic year


“I was rejected from a module because it was “full”, despite having already attended a seminar on the first day.”

2020 marks the year when remote learning, a concept often labelled as “futuristic” or “not worth it,” became the norm all around the world. Freshers were markedly more nervous, as the thought of adapting to a new method of teaching along with a new city was daunting. Module registration, one of their first interactions with their departments, validated these concerns. Although it has always been notoriously disorderly, this year proved exceptionally worse; this begs the question – why was module registration still this disorganised?

In an online survey conducted by The Cheese Grater Magazine, in which 50 participants responded, the mean rating of satisfaction in terms of management of module registration was a drab 5.29 on 10. While 44% of the students were rejected from their chosen modules two days before classes started, 56% of the ones who had been accepted had to write additional emails to be added to their Moodle pages.

The personal accounts were instrumental in shedding light on the administrative haywire. One student noted that they were “rejected from 4 elective modules, with the 5th one unapproved a whole week into term 1,” while another missed class on the first day because their timetable was not yet updated. Being rejected from modules has unfortunately become a UCL staple for many, as one student reported, “I was told to wait until induction week to submit my module choices to ensure no clashes. However, after doing so, I was rejected from my elective because it was already full. I was informed that modules were allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis, which meant that I did not get in because I waited too long, as was instructed by the department. This led me to now taking on two electives in term 2 which will result in a hectic workload and many of my friends are in the same position.”

UCL education communications director Katie Price said, ‘We’re sorry to hear about the sub-optimal experience. We’ve been introducing improvements to the module registration process over a number of years in response to student feedback. For example, this year, for the first time, students were able to change their selections online. Unfortunately, a significant number of changes to programmes were needed so that we could respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which meant departments did not have as much time to plan and prepare. We’re working to make things better next year’

UCL Office of Vice-Provost Education & Student Affairs

Another student recounted that, “all the students in my department, including myself, emailed the admin team because in order to do pre-tutorial tasks and attend tutorials in our optional modules, we required access to the Moodle pages, which we did not yet have. The department replied with a curt “Sorry for the inconvenience! We have a lot on our plates and some modules might not be available on Moodle this week but that’s alright because the first week is not that important anyways””. Nevertheless, some students were quite satisfied with the management – “I did get rejected from one module due to lack of spaces, but then a new seminar was created so that more people could join it.”

We have been working with UCL on improving module selection for the past few years, we published a report on trends in student feedback in 2018 which recommended on action to take forward improving module information and allocation. It is important that students who are not experiencing some of the improvements we have worked on with UCL, to raise these concerns with their academic reps as this would be important for them to escalate these concerns as necessary.”

– Ayman Benmati, Education Officer, Students’ Union UCL

These debacles also highlight the lack of potential support from personal tutors during module selection. Usually, the administration asks students to submit their choices as soon as possible in the first week of September, while only giving access to academic advice a month later. The first-come-first-serve basis does not allow enough time for them to consult their tutors or to weigh out their options, and could possibly lead to a greater number of requests for module changes later. This could be easily mitigated by allotting personal tutors as soon as a student enrolls.

The, almost comical, hiring of ‘full-time module clickers’ to combat the overload of requests makes one question why UCL hasn’t shifted to a completely automated module registration system like its American counterparts. An uncomplicated way to prevent last minute rejections would be to clarify the first-come-first-serve rule and create waitlists for each module, so that each student already has alternates picked out and can be switched in and out of classes efficiently. This saves time, money, and frustration experienced by countless students.

The only way past another bleak beginning of the academic year would be if UCL spent its resources improving existing infrastructure rather than expanding it.

Rusheen Bansal

This appeared in Issue 74