Much tertiary education remains online

Are universities cheating students of their education?

tertiary education

In various sectors of society the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the rise of phrases and expressions designed to accentuate the positive in the face of so many negatives. And as a new academic year gets underway, the field of higher education is no exception. Faced with increasing numbers of students expressing dissatisfaction with the way much, if not all of their course continues online, some universities are being creative in their spin.

Warwick, Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, among others, are using the term “blended learning” to describe their policy of online and face-to-face teaching for classes, seminars and lectures. And Oxford University says that while most learning will be done in-person, it will be “enhanced” by online teaching. Many students don’t see it that way, with some dropping out completely and more threatening to do the same.

Nevertheless, twenty of the 24 Russell Group universities have said that a proportion of undergraduate teaching will remain online, while University College London, the London School of Economics, and Cardiff and Leeds universities say that all lectures will continue online. This, despite then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson now dumped from the Cabinet, warning that universities could face sanctions if they fail to return to face-to-face teaching, as he wanted to see “all universities having students in their lecture theatres.”

With students among the least double-vaccinated groups it is understandable that universities consider the health and wellbeing of their staff, but could they be doing more to give students the teaching and university experience they expected? Pubs, discos, sporting venues and theatres are operating again, and school pupils are back in their classrooms, but universities continue with this cautious approach.

Many students feel they are missing out on much of what they expected of university life; spending time on campus, living away from home, making new friendships, with some also believing their universities have done little to support their mental wellbeing during the pandemic. And there is a further consideration for universities to take on board – money. They depend financially upon their courses being fully subscribed, and a healthy intake of international students brings an additional and welcome boost to their coffers.

But since Brexit, and the consequent increase in fees for EU students at British universities, the number of students from our previous European partners has halved, with the pandemic having a further effect. And as universities feel the pinch the local economy also takes a financial hit. Our survey demonstrates emphatically that most, 68%, think that universities should return to predominately in-person teaching, with that figure rising to 87% in the youngest group surveyed. And rightly or wrongly there is a clear perception that online teaching simply isn’t as good as face-to-face work, with a majority, 56%, saying that online teaching is of lower quality. Once again, that figure rises to 79% amongst the youngest group. A mere 4% reckoned that online lectures would be of higher quality and that figure dropped to an absolute zero amongst the youngest.

Surveys

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