And so, the pandemic rolls on. It’s not clear what will happen in the autumn when (presumably) most people will have had the vaccine. Thoughts now thought turn to what the rest of the academic year has in store. It’s currently February, about halfway through the second term.
It seems though that the government expects study to take place mostly online for the rest of the year at present, going into the new academic year. They’ve also hinted that there will be no tuition fee reduction should online study remain mandatory – a repeat of last year.
Ongoing Three-Way Friction
The government rejected calls for a tuition discount for next year. However, following a backlash, a government minister came forward to say this would only be the case if the online delivery was sufficient. Specifically, it had to have the same learning outcomes as lecture theatre teaching. Students fear this will not be the case.
Students insist that online teaching is difficult; they claim it is hard to remain motivated and ignore potential distractions. Productivity is lower and they feel unable to keep up the expected high standards of university study.
Government also rejected calls for a £2 billion bailout for universities last year.
Online Learning is Not All Negative
While there has been a large and vocal voice complaining about online learning, this is not universal. In September 2020, one student survey said that students felt less stressed by online learning. Those who lived farther from campus had more time at home. Further, the likelihood of missing a lecture is much lower. They also reiterated that though online lectures created a disconnect that has been difficult to adapt to, it has not necessarily reduced contact time. Tutorial sessions are still going ahead virtually and not all students feel their education is negatively impacted.
However, most miss going to the student bar, for a coffee or lunch with their peers to relax. It is this loss of the student lifestyle that could have long-term impact as friendships aren’t forged, especially among freshers.
About the Support Packages
The government has offered a support package to universities. The main points here are:
- £46 million for students facing hardship and mental health support for students
- Aiding the increase employment of employing key workers
- Alteration to clearing to consider issues from last year and perceived problems
- Replacement of lost funding from public research
- A bursary to replace lost income from international students
This has been in place since May last year and is ongoing for the rest of the academic year. This is especially the case since in autumn 2020, most universities said online work would continue for the rest of the academic year. Thoughts now turn to next year.