There are few alive today that remember the last great pandemic: Spanish Flu of 1918. In those 102 years, the world has changed. The world may never be the same again. In fact, this may be the first generation of students to have no Fresher’s Week since it became a thing. Universities are so concerned about a second coronavirus wave, that most are making plans to start new degree students in ways so vastly differ from previous years.
The Situation as It Stands
Late last week, the government announced the gradual lifting of restrictions. Prime Minister Johnson said he hoped the country would be “back to work” by the end of May. This does not mean the situation will return to normal with all restrictions lifted. Some schools are expected to return but exams have already been cancelled for GCSE and A-Level students; this is not expected to change. Some degree of social distancing measures could carry on way beyond lifting the lockdown.
What Universities Now Fear
The long-term effects for universities could last years. English language tests for international students have been deferred or cancelled. Many thousands who come from abroad each year may not be able to commence courses unless they take language tests online. It is also feared domestic students could defer in unprecedented numbers for financial reasons or concern about further coronavirus outbreak.
Online Study Could be the Answer
While most universities expect campuses to be fully open come September, most are making contingency plans should a second coronavirus wave hit.
- Some universities will start students off with online studying: lectures, seminars and assignments with no course content or procedure changing. They will then return to on-campus lectures in January
- However, others say this will be counterproductive encouraging new students to independent study at university. They expect courses for freshers to begin, fully operational, in January
Second and third year, and postgraduate students are unlikely to experience as much disruption under either scenario. It’s important to note these are contingency plans of a worst-case scenario: no easing of lockdown measures or a second wave hitting in the autumn.
Some Already Take January Freshers
The concept of compressing Fresher’s Year into six months is not new. In fact, some universities already do this. Around 10% of students at London Metropolitan University begin three-year degrees in January, compression the first year into six months and then taking the usual format for years two and three. They are considering this format for the next academic year but realise the difficulties they may face with moving from 10% to 100% of students compressing year one.
Either way, the next academic year will be disrupted, if not by the virus itself, then certainly by the after-effects.