Majority of UK universities preparing for in-person teaching in 2020

A survey carried out by Universities UK found that 97% of the 92 universities surveyed said they will provide in-person teaching at the start of term.

Some 78 universities (87%) will offer in-person social opportunities to students, including outside events and sporting activities, in line with government and public health guidance, the survey found.

“Universities across the UK are well advanced in their planning to welcome students this autumn”

“Universities across the UK are well advanced in their planning to welcome students this autumn and ensure they can benefit from a high-quality, full and exciting university experience,” Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of UUK said.

Student support services including mental health support, careers advice, and study skills will be delivered in a mixture of online and in-person, while five institutions said they would be available online.

Additionally, 82% of the universities surveyed said they are working with bars and cafes in the local community as they develop their plans.

“Following the latest health guidelines, universities are continuing to develop detailed plans for the new academic year and will be regularly updating new and returning students over the coming weeks,” Jarvis added.

Nine in 10 universities have communicated current plans to prospective and current students, others will be doing so imminently, the survey added.

“Universities are committed to providing an engaging academic and social experience for all while ensuring the safety and welfare of the whole university community.”

Commenting on survey results, Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS vice president (Higher Education), pointed out that it is still unclear exactly how teaching and learning will work next year.

“Even if most universities intend to provide at least some in-person classes, will they be available for all subjects, and what proportion of learning will be online? Students need to know what they are signing up to; we want them to be able to make informed choices,” she said.

“It’s absolutely vital that students are given choice and power over where and how they start their education.”

A number of institutions have also announced they will be offering additional postgraduate opportunities, having taken into consideration feedback from applicants.

Queen Mary University of London has announced January starts for 30 postgraduate courses across six schools.

A statement explained that the reason for adding these options is to ensure that students unable to join September programs “due to delays with transcripts, English language testing or a change in personal circumstances… have the opportunity to join a slightly later intake, rather than having to wait until September 2021”.

“In these challenging times, we want to be able to offer as much flexibility as possible to our students,” a Queen Mary spokesperson told The PIE News.

“Our own research with our applicants, and insight from elsewhere, shows that some students are concerned about being ready and able to join a course that starts in September as a result, for example, of delays with English Language testing or obtaining their own degree results.

Queen Mary has also launched accelerated and intensive postgrad programs at two schools to give “students the opportunity of starting their course in January and still keeping to their original career plans”.

The University of Liverpool has also said it will offer “greater flexibility” on Postgraduate taught program start dates. It offers a range of start dates in October, November and January, with popular programs offered a choice of two start dates.

“It’s absolutely vital that students are given choice and power over where and how they start their education”

Similarly, the University of Glasgow has moved some 50 programs to a November start, while more than 80 of the institution’s top-performing programs – mainly in its Business School – have moved to January.

Around 30 programs will have dual starts in both September and January for the first time.

Glasgow’s aim is to “provide the best possible combination of remote and on-campus learning experience, whilst ensuring we have the capacity and ability to deliver the student experience that students expect and deserve,” according to Rachel Sandison vice principal, External Relations at Glasgow.

“We made the decision to stagger our PGT start dates following extensive research with our offer holders and based on the size and composition of each program and our capacity to deliver the best experience possible,” she noted.

“We had a small number of programs that ran in January previously, but this is the first time that we’re running a January intake at scale. This is being done this year to provide greater flexibility and choice to prospective international students and offer holders, and whilst we don’t expect this will be repeated in 2022, we will be reviewing post-intake.”

Both Southampton and Nottingham have indicated that some postgraduate taught courses may start either in October 2020 or January 2021.

Beyond this, students can still expect “significant in-person teaching and a wide range of social activities and support services” when they begin in September, Jarvis added.

At Plymouth College of Art, associate Professor and academic dean, Paul Fieldsend-Danks, commented “We’ve all learned a lot over the summer and I’m incredibly proud of the way our community has responded to the restrictions that lockdown necessitated.”

Measures at PCA include 2-metre distances between workstations, one way systems and optimised timetables

This ranged from “video-streamed guest lecturers by internationally-acclaimed artists to technical workshops that have been adapted to use alternative materials and equipment that students could access easily at home”, he related.

The institution is offering a hybrid of live online and on-campus creative practice within the physical environment of the college’s studios and workshops from October.

“Academics have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our students on the level of support and personal connection that they continue to receive,” said Fieldsend-Danks. “In fact, many students have reported that they feel like they’re receiving a more personalised learning experience than ever before.”

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