A-level results day: Row over £9,250 tuition fees for 'blended learning' courses

10 August 2021, 05:29 | Updated: 10 August 2021, 12:01

University students have been deprived of face-to-face learning during the pandemic
University students have been deprived of face-to-face learning during the pandemic. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Many of the UK's leading universities will continue with online teaching in the autumn term, sparking calls for students' £9,250 tuition fees to be reimbursed.

Despite the lifting of all Covid restrictions in the England, and most in Scotland and Wales, 20 out of 24 Russell Group universities have said at least some of their undergraduate teaching will continue online.

It comes as tens of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their A-level grades on Tuesday.

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Which unis will remain online-only?

University College London, the London School of Economics, Imperial College, Cardiff and Leeds have all said lectures will continue to be held online, according to The Sunday Times.

Which unis will have a mix of online and in-person lectures?

Warwick, Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh will deliver a blend of online and face-to-face teaching.

Students at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford can expect most of their teaching to be in person, but some will be online.

Lord Baker of Dorking, the former Conservative education secretary, told the newspaper the decision to stick with online learning was “outrageous” and urged universities to return to pre-pandemic learning.

"Pubs, cinemas, theatres and football matches have all opened without restrictions," he said. "What’s different about universities?"

Backlash over online learning

Students at Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool universities have launched petitions demanding reimbursement of tuition fees if there is not a return to a full return to "normality in terms of teaching".

Lord Baker backed this, insisting the Government is correct to consider cutting to cut the annual tuition fee to £7,500.   

Students at Manchester, where the petition has reached nearly 10,000 signatures, told LBC last month of their fury at the university’s plans to keep teaching parts of courses online.

Biochemistry first-year student Caitlin Wright described the decision to move to permanently include online teaching as part of the courses as "absolutely shocking and not in the best interests of students".

"I understand why it was necessary for this year but past the pandemic I am not sure why it is necessary," she said.

"Everyone learns so much better in person, where they can bounce ideas off each other and put their hands up to ask questions. Online it takes three to five business days to get an answer to your question."

First-year Politics student Chris Adair added that he is worried the "quality of teaching will be severely affected if the university use the pandemic as an excuse to move to online teaching".

Approach in times of uncertainty defended

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told LBC universities have been scarred by the chaos of last autumn and are adapting their plans accordingly.

"Students regard learning as a social endeavour and see part of the university experience as spending time in the presence of people from other countries, other parts of the UK and other backgrounds," he said.

"But universities got it wrong last year, when they promised face-to-face learning would come back earlier than it was allowed to for most students, and they are desperate not to overpromise this year."

The National Union of Students has previously said there can be some advantages in teaching online, while Universities UK has defended the approach, saying it was still unclear which restrictions would be in place when the autumn term was planned.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: "No matter what teaching methods universities and colleges use, they must provide consistently good courses for all students."

A Department for Education spokeswoman added: "Universities have a strong track record in delivering excellent blended tuition, and we have been clear that quality and quantity should not drop."