UK students ‘want some teaching to stay online’ post-Covid

UPP polling suggests criticism of universities that are sticking with digital lectures may not be entirely justified

May 25, 2021
Female student taking notes while learning at night at home
Source: iStock

Most students at UK universities would like at least some of their teaching to stay online into the next academic year, a survey suggests.

Asked how they would like to learn next term, the most popular response among the 2,147 students who responded to a poll conducted for the UPP Foundation was mostly in person, with online teaching once or twice a week.

Forty-five per cent of respondents gave this response, compared with the 29 per cent who wanted fully in-person teaching, with no online delivery. Twenty-one per cent wanted mostly online teaching, with face-to-face sessions once or twice a week, while 6 per cent wanted their course to be fully online.

The results – released to mark the launch of the UPP Foundation’s Student Futures Commission – emerged as some UK universities faced criticism over their plans to keep some lectures online in 2021-22.

Institutions including the universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and St Andrews are among those expecting to deliver at least some lectures online next term, alongside the London School of Economics and UCL.

Some of these institutions cited uncertainty over social distancing requirements in the autumn, while others presented the decision as a broader move towards a blended learning approach.

Some students have questioned whether continuing with online lectures offers good value for money on tuition fees of £9,250 annually in England, the BBC reported.

And the UPP polling suggests that learning face-to-face is very important after a year in which it was conducted mostly remotely on many courses, with 59 per cent of respondents selecting it as a top priority.

But the results suggest that there is an appetite to keep at least some education online. Asked which elements of online learning they would like to retain next year, 64 per cent of respondents selected recorded lectures, while 27 per cent said live online lectures. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents wanted one-to-ones with their supervisors to be online.

The Student Futures Commission, chaired by former Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, has been tasked by the UPP Foundation to explore how universities can best support students from September onwards.

Richard Brabner, director of the UPP Foundation, said that institutions had “gone to extraordinary lengths to support students this year” but “nothing beats a proper campus experience”.

“More than anything else students want in-person experiences and face-to-face teaching,” Mr Brabner said. “As university life returns to something like normal in September, this is the least we can do.”

Asked about their contact hours during the past academic year, 54 per cent said that they had been a bit or a lot lower than their university had set out. Sixteen per cent said that they were higher than promised, while 30 per cent said they were about the same.

Fifty-four per cent of respondents said that the pandemic had had a “somewhat negative” impact on their mental health, while 24 per cent said that it had been “very negative”.

Asked about the academic level they were at, 63 per cent said that they were somewhat or much below the level they expected to be at, while one in 10 felt that they were above.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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