Image: Geograph/ David P Howard

Education Secretary tells universities to resume face-to-face teaching or cut fees

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said that universities should return to face-to-face lectures or reduce the tuition fees they charge.

20 of the 24 Russell Group universities have recently announced that they will continue to use online learning within their courses, angering students who have said that they are overpaying for their courses.

The University of Warwick, along with Nottingham, Manchester, and Edinburgh, has said that they will resume a combination of online and face-to-face teaching in an approach labelled “blended learning”. 

Speaking to Sky News, Gavin Williamson said: “We do expect universities, unless there is an unprecedented situation, to be moving back to delivering lectures face-to-face”. 

He added: “They are autonomous institutions, I don’t have control over them, but I would expect universities to deliver a high quality teaching experience. 

The Boar News contacted Put Warwick Students First, a student-led protest group who have organised a ‘Warwick In-Person Teaching’ petition that has garnered over 1000 signatures. 

A spokesperson for PWSF has said: “We anticipate that Warwick will ignore our petition, and we will attempt to present this to Matt Western, the Shadow Universities Minister.”

The petition reads: “If this University values its students more than the money we pay, in-person teaching should be offered”. 

 

“If they are not delivering what students expect, they shouldn’t be charging full fees.” 

– Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

When contacted for a comment, the University of Warwick said: “We have developed comprehensive plans to welcome new and returning students into an outstanding, campus-based, and safe blended learning experience at Warwick in 2021/22.

Developed with the input of both students and staff, we will deliver a mixture of in-person and online teaching in the autumn term, with the majority of every student’s teaching being face to face, through tutorials and seminars.”

They added: “We know Covid continues to create a mixed picture, and that it will take time for members of our community to adjust, and our plans reflect that.”

News Analysis: Eden Fall-Bailey 

There is pressure from the UK government to resume face-to-face teaching for lectures for the autumn term, and with a record number of A* and A grades, there are a lot more students coming to Warwick this year who will be looking for answers. 

There are questions over why Warwick will not return to delivering face-to-face lectures, especially considering that Gavin Williamson has said that the Office for Students, an independent regulator for higher education in England, would be monitoring universities “that aren’t delivering enough for students that are paying their fees”. 

So, the question remains; will this “blended learning” approach appease students enough, or will there be student efforts to ‘penalise’ Warwick through rent strikes, and tuition fee refund demands, similarly to last year? 

I spoke to a second year Humanities student who said: “My degree heavily depends on student interaction and discourse within lectures, and the fact that I still have to sit behind a screen during the day to watch an online lecture, yet I am able to go clubbing at night seems ridiculous to me.”  

On the other hand, a second year International Management student said: “Online lectures lets me focus on side projects including society responsibilities, and it also helps me manage my time better. I wouldn’t mind continuing to have lectures online and seminars in-person”.

Despite government pressure, Warwick remains an autonomous institution, and they have said that they will continue to update the student body on any changes to the ways they will be delivering courses this year.

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