Students have reacted in fury after Manchester University announced that online lectures are here to stay – with no cut in tuition fees that cost £9,250 per year.
More than 4,000 people have already signed a petition urging the Russell Group university to fully return to in-person teaching.
Despite plans to give seminars in person, lecture halls will be left empty at the university – even after the pandemic – as part of an approach to ‘blend’ online and campus teaching.
Universities UK confirmed to MailOnline that Manchester University is the first to announce blended learning as a long-term fixture, and that ‘a lot’ of other institutions can be expected to follow suit, with decisions made on an individual basis.
The organisation added that it is ‘difficult to say whether this will be forever’, but refers to a timeframe ‘potentially beyond the new academic year’.
It follows a host of universities, including University College London (UCL), St Andrews, Leeds, Liverpool and Edinburgh, confirming plans to continue Zoom lectures in the autumn term.
Eight institutions, including Nottingham, Imperial, Cardiff, Bristol and Durham, have also said that lectures will remain largely online next year, according to a survey by The Telegraph.
Students protest when the University of Manchester erected fencing around student accommodation blocks at a campus in November last year
Universities UK confirmed Manchester University is the first to announce blended learning as a long-term fixture, and that ‘a lot’ of other institutions can be expected to follow suit (file photo)
Manchester University pledged to keep an ‘interactive’ element to lectures, including question and answer sessions, reported The Guardian.
Student Emily Bennett, who created the petition, said: ‘Students are obviously unhappy with the decision as we don’t feel like we were adequately consulted on the matter, and particularly for humanities subjects, this change would result in drastically lower contact hours per week.’
She added: ‘Obviously it is essential that there is an option for online learning due to continued restrictions and access requirements, but the majority of students would be able to and would prefer to return to in-person teaching for the next academic year.
‘Furthermore, the university has said that fees would be the same, and this is unacceptable.
‘Courses delivered online by institutions such as the Open University cost substantially less money due to them being online and if Manchester University choose to put degrees partially or wholly online in the long term, tuition fees should reflect this.’
Earlier this month, the university’s Associate Vice President, Dan George, confirmed a move to blended learning – where students are taught both online and face-to-face – in the ‘long term’, even after the pandemic.
He also told The Manchester Tab that it ‘would not be an opt-in’ choice for students.
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: ‘This is not online teaching, but about augmenting in-person lectures, seminars, labs, Q&As and discussions, and workshops with high quality online materials for self-study.
Signs made by students are displayed in a window of their accommodation building in September last year in Manchester
‘We have been speaking to students for some time about ways to increase flexibility and choice and we will continue to do so to help shape this activity to their needs and the needs of each discipline.
‘Our commitment to blended and flexible learning is part of the University strategy.’
In a statement, Universities UK added: ‘Universities continually review their learning and teaching strategies, and will be looking at how and when to incorporate more blended provision in a non-pandemic future.
‘Throughout the pandemic, universities have been looking closely at the balance between in-person and online learning. Universities now have a year of innovation and evidence to draw from when considering the greatest benefits of in-person or online teaching and learning – taking accessibility into account – for the future.
‘While it is unclear at this stage whether blended learning will be a permanent fixture, universities are planning to ensure that whatever happens in 2021/22 students will be able to access high-quality teaching, learning and support.’