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University Minister says students have missed out on “university experience” due to pandemic

Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, has admitted that students have missed out on the “university experience” over the last year due to the pandemic, lockdowns, and disruption to their study.

Ms Donelan said that students have missed out on the experience of socialising, forming relationships, and making connections this last year.

She added: “We have discussed the missed socialising time and the university experience which is a fundamental part of university. It’s where you can also make connections and relationships and develop some soft skills.”

From this week, students studying practical courses, including the sciences and some creative arts, may return to face-to-face teaching. They will join students already receiving face-to-face teaching studying medicine, teaching, and social work.

However, more than half of university students are still remotely learning from home. Ms Donelan said that this will be reviewed at Easter and that students would be given a week’s notice of their return to face-to-face teaching.

She said that institutions are trying to catch up on the “soft skills” which students have missed out on as well their academic work. She added that universities are looking at how the “university experience” can be “built back”.

But she admitted: “Nobody is going to be able to give back all of the time that has been lost in terms of the university experience and I don’t think anybody’s pretending that they can.”

We have discussed the missed socialising time and the university experience which is a fundamental part of university. It’s where you can also make connections and relationships and develop some soft skills

– Michelle Donelan, University Minister

Ms Donelan added: “Universities are aware of students feeling they have missed out on some of that student experience. Student unions have played a fantastic role organising events online, but it’s never quite the same.”

The minister was asked if it was unfair for students still having to learn from home remotely to have to pay full tuition fees. She responded that students could complain to both their university and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator recently revealed that an undisclosed university had been instructed to pay an international medical student £5,000 in compensation for the lost teaching time during England’s first lockdown.

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