UK students ‘would feel safer’ if blended learning continues

One-third of respondents to NUS survey say they would feel ‘not at all safe’ if teaching returned to normal in September

July 14, 2020
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More than a third of students would feel unsafe returning to face-to-face teaching on UK university campuses in September, according to a survey conducted by the National Union of Students.

The survey of 1,059 students found that 36 per cent of respondents said they would feel “not at all safe” if they were taught in class only, compared with 28 per cent who said they would feel “somewhat safe” and 17 per cent who said they would feel “fairly safe”. Only 7 per cent said they would feel “extremely safe”.

The NUS said two-fifths of international students said they would not feel safe at all with face-to-face teaching in September 2020.

Most UK universities have shifted to an online learning model since March, following the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NUS survey found that, if full in-class teaching did not return until January 2021, only 13 per cent of those surveyed said they would feel unsafe and 22 per cent would feel extremely safe.

Students were less likely to say they would feel unsafe if teaching was a mix of online and in-person teaching in September 2020, with only 17 per cent saying they would not feel safe and 64 per cent saying they would feel either extremely, very or fairly safe to be taught by a blend of the two in September.

If taught by blended learning in January 2021, only 4 per cent said they would feel unsafe.

The NUS survey found that almost half – 47 per cent – expected to be taught online in the first term of the coming academic year, but in term two more students expected to be taught via blended learning – 59 per cent. By term three, 47 per cent expected to be taught in the classroom, compared with 14 per cent who expected to be taught online.

The survey also highlighted some apprehension about entering or returning to accommodation in September. Although just 7 per cent said they would feel not at all safe moving into accommodation, only 22 per cent said they would feel extremely safe moving into accommodation in September, compared with 43 per cent who would feel extremely safe moving in January.

In good news for universities, the survey found that three in four students intend to start or continue their studies as planned in the coming academic year.

Asked if they would change their plans if their institution introduced online lectures as part of their new or adapted offer, the majority said it was “not likely” to change their plans.

For example, 73 per cent said they were not likely to defer their start date or return for a year, compared with 12 per cent who were “somewhat likely” and 3 per cent who were “very likely”.

Likewise, 84 per cent were unlikely to change their institution as a result of online lectures, while 8 per cent were “somewhat likely” and 2 per cent were “very likely”.

Larissa Kennedy, the NUS president, said “student safety must be the priority for anyone making decisions as to how campuses are planning to reopen in September. The government must work with colleges and universities to provide clarity as to how they will keep students safe. These results make it clear that many students will be nervous about their return to education and need reassurances that institutions will be acting in their best interests.”

Universities must provide students with clarity about what they can expect from the next academic year, she continued, saying that “no university should be promising to put students back into classrooms too quickly as a marketing ploy to guarantee their income in an already failing higher education market”.

“Any attempt to bring students back into face-to-face teaching too early will undermine confidence in the university’s approach,” Ms Kennedy said. “Instead, students must be consulted with as part of this process, and it is crucial for universities to work with their students’ unions to facilitate the reopening of campuses, when it is safe to do so.”

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Reader's comments (3)

How is it that children of school age, including 18 year olds in 6th Form Colleges, will be legally obliged to attend classes along with their teachers, while University students may not? Are Universities being lazy, unnecessarily cautious or lacking imagination when they want to be 100% on line teaching and learning in September? And who are these students, unhappy to engage in face to face teaching but happy to go to raves and pubs with glee? I thought Universities, their staff and students were supposed to be at the forefront of innovation, pushing the boundaries of thought, self developed and learning.
"I thought Universities, their staff and students were supposed to be at the forefront of innovation, pushing the boundaries of thought, self developed and learning." Some parts are, the 'hard' sciences and related subjects at Post Grad level certainly are, but then most of those are of sufficient age not to still think and act like children, those in soft NON science 'sciences', studies and similar however are often still very child like, even spoilt child like, at Post Grad level.
Albert SW - the full Autumn reopening of schools in England should be the last place we look to for direction. The Westminster government seems to lack the ability to formulate a meaningful plan for schools, so it is ignoring the science and returning pupils to class sizes of 30 or more with no meaningful opportunity for social distancing. Threatening parents with the legal implications of failing to comply seems to compound the reality of government inadequacy – good plans don’t need to be underpinned with threats. School children may not be particularly vulnerable to Covid but many of the adults they mix with are – with no significant change to the underlying position regarding a vaccine or treatment this is a massive gamble as we move into the winter period. This article is about students making informed decisions about how safe they feel, not University leaders (some of whom will want to fill classrooms and residences to ensure that fees and rents are secur) so it seems that students at the start of their higher education journeys are far wiser than many current political and possibly some HE institutional leaders.