No campus lectures and shut student bars: UK universities’ £1bn struggle to move online

Apr 25, 2020 by

UK universities need to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to deliver degrees online, with warnings that many are unprepared to deal with the impact of the China coronavirus pandemic on students’ education.

Only around 20 universities are in a good position to provide a range of high-quality online courses by the start of the new academic year in September, according to Prof Sir Tim O’Shea, the former vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University. Some of the country’s top-ranked Russell Group institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge, were not in that category, he added.

The warning comes as the sector seeks to expand online education in a bid to offset huge losses from tens of thousands of international students cancelling their studies due to Covid-19. Prolonged social distancing also mean freshers could face a radically different university experience, with no lectures on campus and bars closed.

Most universities would face costs of at least £10m to create five or six new online degrees in different faculties, said O’Shea, a leading expert on computer-based learning. This would total well over £1bn across the sector.

The costs will add to the financial pressures facing universities, with a report from the University and College Union (UCU) forecastingthat the sector could lose around £2.5bn next year in tuition fees alone if the pandemic continues.

O’Shea recommended that universities focus on providing the first-year courses for up to five faculties, at a cost of £3m to £7.5 m.

His stark assessment came as Durham University stalled controversial plans to provide online-only degrees and significantly reduce face-to-face lecturing next year. The proposals, drawn up by senior managers and private provider Cambridge Education Group Digital, said lecturers would only need six hours of training, and could create online degree modules in six to 12 weeks.

Source: No campus lectures and shut student bars: UK universities’ £1bn struggle to move online | Education | The Guardian

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