Most students ‘support delaying start of term for more face-to-face classes’

The majority of prospective students say they would support delaying the start of the academic year to secure more face-to-face teaching on campus, a survey suggests.

Nearly half (49%) of university applicants fear cuts made by institutions because of the Covid-19 crisis will negatively impact upon their education, according to a poll by the University and College Union (UCU).

The findings come after the University of Cambridge confirmed all “face-to-face lectures” will be moved online during the 2020-21 academic year to ensure social distancing can continue amid the pandemic.

A number of universities across the UK are planning to offer a blended learning approach – with a mix of online lessons and face-to-face teaching – when they reopen campuses to students in the autumn.

The University of Glasgow has said large-scale lectures would be “impractical” at the start of the term if the two-metre social distancing rule remains in place.

The poll, of 516 students who have applied to a UK university this year, suggests 71% of applicants would support moving the start of their first year of university to a later time if it meant they could have more face-to-face teaching rather than online lessons.

It also found that almost a quarter (23%) of prospective students were worried that the university they wish to attend could go bust because of Covid-19.

It comes after vice-chancellors warned in April that universities were likely to face “financial failure” amid the Covid-19 crisis without emergency Government funding of at least £2 billion.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said: “It is hardly surprising that students are anxious about what the future holds for universities and for their education. Given the impact this uncertainty is having on students, it is now critical that Government agrees to provide increased financial backing to the sector.

“Students need to be confident that they will get a high quality education, despite the hugely damaging impact of the pandemic.

“Government needs to guarantee funding so institutions are able to make decisions which put the welfare of their staff and students first, and plan for a delayed start if this is the safest course of action,” Dr Grady added.

Claire Sosienski Smith, National Union of Students (NUS) vice president (Higher Education), said: “The Government must underwrite the higher education sector to ensure its survival as a vital public good and integral part of our economic recovery.

“This should include a student safety net and funds to allow all students to re-do this year at no extra cost, or have their tuition fees reimbursed or written off.

“The Government must also advise institutions to carefully consider the start dates and format of any blended learning environments, so that everyone can be confident that these environments are safe for students and staff.”

Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK (UUK), said: “I think it’s a very exciting time for students to go to university and I would be encouraging students to think very strongly about the opportunities that a university education provides.

“Both in terms of being an exciting experience, and we all want university to be exciting just as we had a great time there, but also in preparing them for their jobs and careers in what is going to be a very, very challenging job market.”

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