Coronavirus: growing number of UK universities move to online teaching

Decision by some institutions to end lectures and seminars prompts others to quickly follow suit 

March 13, 2020
empty lecture hall
Source: Getty/iStock

A growing number of UK universities are moving away from face-to-face teaching as the coronavirus crisis escalates.

After the London School of Economics announced that it would be delivering teaching online for the rest of the year, and Durham University said there would be no classroom teaching in the last week of its term, other institutions have moved to clarify how they will continue the delivery of courses.

In an email to staff and students, Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor at the University of Oxford, where term ends this weekend, said that although it was following government advice and would “remain open until instructed to do otherwise”, it would use the Easter break “to prepare for the transition to online teaching and assessment”.

She added that all domestic undergraduates were being advised to return home for the break “unless they have a compelling reason to stay”. There were six confirmed student cases of Covid-19, the email said, but they were all “recovering well”.

Other universities where changes have been made include the University of Southampton, which has brought forward the end of term by a week to 13 March (although the campus will remain open), the University of Glasgow, which said exams scheduled for April/May would not take place in buildings on campus, and UCL, which confirmed it was ending face-to-face teaching for the rest of the academic year.

Glasgow vice-chancellor Sir Anton Muscatelli added in his message to staff and students that “over the coming period, it may be necessary to restrict movement on campus and even to close some areas. However, even in this scenario there will be parts of the university that will, and must, remain open for health and safety reasons.”

Meanwhile, UCL president & provost Michael Arthur said in a statement: “The outbreak of Covid-19 is requiring us to work at speed to find a way through the challenges of keeping our community safe whilst continuing as far as possible to teach, study, research and collaborate…These are extraordinary times, and as such, require an extraordinary response.”

At Loughborough University, a decision has been made to “suspend ‘normal’ lecturing activity” from next week. “We have asked academic colleagues to make best efforts to ensure that, instead, lecture material is online within 24 hours of the scheduled session,” the statement from vice-chancellor Bob Allison added.

Another university to change its arrangements was Manchester Metropolitan University, where vice-chancellor Malcolm Press said in a statement that it had been decided to end face-to-face teaching at the institution from 27 March, “and potentially sooner, if requested by the government”.

Its nearest neighbour, the University of Manchester, said it would be “transferring our teaching activities to online provision as far as possible” from 16 March.

However, apart from some universities bringing the end of term forward or changing their methods of teaching, there did not appear to be examples of campuses being completely closed. The UK government's advice is that at present such action is not necessary.

This stands in contrast with other countries in Europe where governments have specifically asked for universities to close, including France, Denmark, Republic of Ireland and Italy.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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