Letters – 3 January 2019

January 3, 2019

Online learning has a friendly human face

We applaud Paul Le Blanc’s recognition of the “overlooked majority” of students who carry work, family and other responsibilities with them into their academic lives (“There is nothing impersonal about online learning”, Opinion, 20 December). As lecturers who have been delivering online MSc courses at the University of Central Lancashire for more than 12 years, we concur that it is possible to have meaningful interactions with our online students.

Our courses such as the MSc in Sustainability, Health and Wellbeing use a combination of online materials, synchronous facilitated discussion sessions, asynchronous discussion boards and one-to-one tutorials over Skype to deliver a rounded learning experience.

While this may miss the usual perceptions of the social side of life on campus, importantly it does fit in with students’ lives and gives access to learning that might otherwise be unavailable while still enabling students to become part of a dynamic learning community.

Jean Duckworth
Hazel Partington
University of Central Lancashire


At the Open University, we too do a lot to provide students with a community peer learning experience – to their surprise. They seem to expect to have just a computer to interact with. When I phone my students to introduce myself, there is often a pause at the start of our conversation as they absorb the news that there is a human being who will guide them through their studies.

Via timeshighereducation.com

And non-EU staff?

A UK government pilot scheme running through November and December has allowed university staff from the European Union to apply for settled status in return for a fee of £65 per person (“Survey finds wide variation in UK university support for EU staff”, News, 20 December).

However, I would argue that covering EU settlement costs and not covering the costs of non-EU Tier 2 visa renewals and Indefinite Leave to Remain applications is discriminatory. It implies that one set of employees is worth supporting while another class is not.

Ultimately, the £65 fee is a panic-related Band-Aid to retain current staff. New EU staff coming in will soon discover that when it comes to paying for visas and visa renewals, institutional support will fall away quickly because this will add hundreds of thousands of pounds to university human resource budgets.

The University of Leeds (not mentioned in the article) has shown tremendous foresight in this regard, not only covering Tier 2 visa renewals but also ILR costs for its non-EU staff and granting zero-interest loans to cover any additional costs. This removes a huge disincentive to staff relocating to the UK and also shows very forward thinking in ensuring that all staff are treated equally regardless of where they happen to come from.

Via timeshighereducation.com

Make room in labs

The feature “Wisdom before age” (13 December) examined whether compulsory retirement ages benefit the academy. There is little doubt that enforced retirement in academia is one of the most difficult things to accept, particularly when the ideas are still flowing freely and deserve publication.

However, as a former departmental head in human genetics in the medical schools of Leiden and Utrecht universities, now retired in Brazil, I found that one of the most difficult problems was allocating sufficient laboratory space to incoming postdocs, who sometimes arrive with their own ideas and research budget but require sufficient space to set up shop. Obligatory retirement can be an important way to achieve that.

Arguably, adequate physical space is a department’s most important resource. The money needed for research and personnel will probably arrive through well-planned applications, but that will be for naught if there is no space to allocate to researchers.

Via timeshighereducation.com

Letters should be sent to:


Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday. Read the terms and conditions.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.