A number of UK universities have said they are planning to keep lectures online for at least the first term of the next academic year.
The announcement would see the third year of disruption for higher education students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, renewing pressure for tuition fee refunds.
Roughly 50% of students in England have only seen the option of face-to-face teaching return this week, with an increasing number of universities now anticipating that a mix of online and in-person teaching will continue into the autumn term.
The University of Liverpool says it is expecting a blend of online and in-person, which could mean some lectures will be delivered via pre-recorded videos created by tutors, while a University of Leeds spokesman said it will also be delivering a ‘hybrid approach’.
“We intend to give every student a substantial on-campus experience throughout next semester, including multiple face-to-face sessions each week,” they told the BBC.
Various student groups have come out against the proposals, with some labelling the plans ‘unacceptable’ and a petition launched by University of Leeds students stating: “Online teaching is in no way a substitute for in-person learning.”
Others responded angrily, arguing the plans were a ‘disgrace’, instead calling for a ‘complete return to in-person teaching’.
Those supporting the petition pointed towards the £9,250 tuition fees still being charged despite the disruption, with one person writing: “Now children are in school full time, people are back in the workplace and the general public can visit pubs, theatres and cinemas… there is absolutely no need for any lectures to remain online.
The London School of Economics says it expects the ‘vast majority’ of its seminars and classes will be taught in-person, although lectures will be ‘largely delivered online’, St Andrews and the University of Edinburgh say large lectures will be online, and the University of Manchester is also planning a ‘blended approach’.
However, the National Union of Students (NUS) has said there could be some positives to come from an increase in online teaching.
NUS vice president, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, said: “Online lectures, remote access to resources and other digital provision has significantly improved access to education and, offered alongside in-person teaching, gives students greater choice over how they learn.”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said no matter what teaching methods universities and colleges use, they must ‘provide consistently good courses for all students’ and that universities must provide ‘timely and clear information for students’ on how their courses will be taught next year.
A spokeswoman for Universities UK said universities were working hard to plan for the autumn without knowing what restrictions will be in place, and that students would have access to facilities such as libraries and laboratories.
“Universities have a strong track record in delivering excellent blended tuition, and we have been clear that quality and quantity should not drop,” said a Department for Education spokeswoman.
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