Universities are looking into the possibility of online teaching for the new year, in case Covid-19 makes it irresponsible to open university campuses in September as planned. So far, nothing concrete has been announced, but if social distancing continues into Autumn, it is possible that universities will be forced to conduct online courses for at least the first term of the next academic year.
The students this will most affect will be incoming students, who have already had their A-Level exams cancelled and gap years disrupted. This may mean that classic university staples such as Fresher’s week and Fresher’s Ball will not take place. This would be devastating for those excited for the traditional start to university and could impact new student’s social growth and adjustment. Research has shown that students prefer face-to-face lectures, not just because they provide a better learning experience, but because they also serve as a chance to socialise with course mates. There are also worries that new students will not be sufficiently able to study independently and will be unused to university-level teaching and assessment.
This may mean that there is a much larger percentage of students deferring for a year in order to get the university experience they hoped for. Institutions are already anticipating a huge loss in the number of international students choosing to study in the UK. Having a smaller year group than usual could mean significant monetary repercussions for universities across the country. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute ThinkTank, has said that universities are often valuable in helping the economy during times of recession, so higher institutions having a lower income than usual could have far reaching effects.
Some universities are considering delaying the new year by a month or two, or even starting the year in January where students would be on a fast track study, catching up in the summer months. The impact of online courses on degrees that require observation, practical elements, or in-person examination would be at an extreme disadvantage. It is worth considering the impact of a lack of research resources on essays and other assessments. Finally, this could negatively affect students who don’t have access to good technology, or may have slower internet and broadband.
So far nothing is confirmed, but it is possible that we may be stuck with online courses for the rest of 2020.