Online lectures here to stay universities continue with 'blended learning' next academic year

·3-min read
 One academic described the move as “nonsense” adding that students are being "shortchanged"
One academic described the move as “nonsense” adding that students are being "shortchanged"

Online lectures are here to stay with a third of Russell Group universities saying they intend to continue with “blended learning” next academic year.

Eight of the UK’s 24 leading institutions have said that lectures will largely remain online next year, a survey by The Telegraph has found.

The higher education watchdog warned that further roll-out of online lectures must not lead to a drop in standards. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said the regulator would not hesitate to intervene if the quality of learning fell short.

“No matter what teaching methods universities and colleges use, they must provide a consistently good courses for all students,” she said. “As the regulator we have powers to step in where this is not the case.”

She said that universities seeking to use more digital teaching next academic year “should not compromise quality”.

Academics at Liverpool University were told this week that lectures will take place “mostly online” next academic year.

“This will allow us to maximise the use of campus for other more interactive teaching activities where the in-person experience is likely to be most beneficial,” according to Prof Gavin Brown, pro Vice Chancellor for education at the university.

He told staff that seminars, workshops, laboratory practicals, studio sessions, tutorials should take place in person.

One academic at the university described the move as “nonsense”, adding: “This is shortchanging students who are paying £9,250 a year”.

Nottingham University also said that “large scale” lectures with “high numbers” of students will be delivered remotely. Meanwhile Leeds and Manchester universities as well as Imperial College confirmed they will continue with a “blended approach” to teaching next academic year, involving both in-person and remote learning.

Cardiff University and the London School of Economics and Political Sciences both said large lectures will be taught online.

Bristol University said the “majority” of teaching will be in person, adding that they are taking “the best of online” and adding it to their existing in-person offering.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said universities should be “cautious” about moving courses online and warned that the move will not go down well with students.

“The polling of students suggests they really like lectures, even big ones,” he said. “Students want to watch lectures back later on, but they also want to be able to meet in big lecture halls with their friends, learning is obviously social.”

Durham University said it hoped to offer “substantial” in-person teaching next year, while Edinburgh said it wanted to offer “as much face-to-face teaching” as is safely possible.

The rest of the Russell Group universities - including Oxford and Cambridge - either declined to comment on whether lectures will be delivered online next year, or said they have not yet decided their approach.

Ms Dandridge told The Telegraph: “It is particularly important that universities and colleges provide timely and clear information for students on how their courses will be taught next year, while staying adaptable to potential changes in public health advice.

“Students should expect sufficient information in time for making their decisions in June, and certainly before A-level results day in August. This is particularly important for prospective students, many of whom will have had their teaching disrupted in school.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Universities have a strong track record in delivering excellent blended tuition, and we have been clear that quality and quantity should not drop. The Office for Students will be monitoring the situation, and Universities should be open about what students can expect.”