Image : Wikimedia Commons/ Andrew Curtis

UK universities should remain online until September, argues lecturer

A lecturer has called for UK universities to remain online until September.

Writing a personal opinion piece in the Times Higher Education supplement, Dr Simon Williams, of Swansea University, also argued that tuition fees and accommodation costs should be partially refunded.

Universities are currently delivering online teaching and students have been urged not to return to campus, with the exception of certain legal reasons. The UK government has said that students will return to campus “as soon as possible”, and will review the situation in mid-February in light of its vaccination numbers.

However, Dr Williams said that it was “hard to predict with any confidence” students’ safe return to campus, and that “campuses would likely see a spate of outbreaks over the subsequent weeks and perhaps months” even if cases were brought down to mid-February 2020 levels.

He said: “We can be confident that vaccine coverage will be more than sufficient to enable in-person teaching to recommence in September.”

Dr Williams added: “Such a prolonged commitment to online learning would also necessitate a commitment to compensate students for their loss of in-person teaching and for their inability to use term-time accommodation, where relevant.”

He noted that partial reimbursements could be considered “financial incentives” to encourage students to stay at home.

The UK and Welsh governments should bear the brunt of this cost, he added.

We should make the decision now to keep campuses closed until the end of this academic year

– Dr Simon Williams, Swansea University

He also argued that committing to online-only teaching would “send a message of solidarity” given the fact that many are working from home or contending with job losses.

Dr Williams concluded: “We should make the decision now to keep campuses closed until the end of this academic year.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “In-person teaching is a valuable part of higher education and should be able to continue for the majority of students once the public health advice is that it is safe to do so.

“We continue to work with our universities to ensure students will be able to return to campus safely, including supporting lateral asymptomatic flow testing for both students and staff.”

The Department for Education said it “encouraged universities and accommodation providers to review their accommodation policies to ensure they are fair, transparent and have the best interests of students at heart”.

It added: “The government will continue to prioritise the full return to education settings as soon as possible. We recently announced up to £20m to help students most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances, for example those struggling to cover accommodation costs as a result of the pandemic, in addition to an existing £256m universities can use to help students.

“Universities are responsible for their tuition fees, but the government has been clear they are expected to maintain quality and academic standards and the quantity of tuition should not drop. They should seek to ensure all students, regardless of their background, can access their studies remotely.”

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