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Student anger and confusion at University of Manchester’s plans for continued “blended” learning

The University of Manchester has been criticised by students after they announced that remote learning, which it has been using in the last academic year, would be made a permanent part of its “blended learning” approach.

Over 6,500 students have signed the petition started by Emily Bennett after Professor April McMahon, the university’s vice-president for teaching, learning, and students, made comments that the plans for continued “blended learning” would “absolutely not” lead to a tuition fee reduction.

Emily Bennett said that students “don’t get the same experience” and should pay less. She said she would expect a reduction in fees for blended learning, “because otherwise you’re not getting value for money”.

She said she was concerned she may only have “two hours in the university per week”, with the rest of her politics, philosophy, and economics course “classed as non-interactive [and] turned into online videos or readings”.

“I’ll have no contact with most of the people on my course or my lecturers,” she added.

Many universities, including nearly all Russell Group universities, are planning to keep online lectures in the autumn term, with the University of Manchester confirming it will be part of their plans beyond then. This is in defiance of government advice that they can return to in-person teaching.

The university responded, claiming that this was all a misunderstanding, and that the use of the term “blended learning” had caused confusion, according to Ms McMahon.

She said that it had “never been our intention” to keep teaching online, and any such suggestion was “categorically untrue”. She claimed the term “blended learning” caused the issue, and apologised for “any confusion and upset it had caused students”.


I’ll have no contact with most of the people on my course or my lecturers

– Emily Bennett

The university said: “Please be assured that blended learning 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. This is very different to the emergency move to online learning that you have experienced during the pandemic.”

“Please also be assured that our shift to blended learning is not driven by financial motivations,” they added.

The planned “blended approach” is expected to combine synchronous and asynchronous content. The university says that they are planning both a socially distanced and a non-socially distanced timetable due to fears the government may continue, or reimpose, restrictions into the autumn term.

The University of Warwick’s plan for teaching in the 2021-22 academic year was recently confirmed to be “blended” as well.

Any group teaching with over 50 students will be online, whereas anything with less than 50 has the option of in-person or online. This means most lectures will be online for the next academic year.

Warwick will continue this blended approach at least until it is “reviewed as part of the next Institutional Teaching and Learning Review”.


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