Ben HaywardSeptember 7th
2020

University students are complaining that, having been told they should return to university, their courses are now being moved online, leaving them severely out of pocket. 

Speaking to the BBC, students have revealed that a number of universities have only now moved courses online after they were forced to take out expensive housing contracts.

Third year student, Sara from Leeds, who is studying international development at King's College London, says she wasn't told her course would be completely online this term until September 1st - the same day she began paying almost £3,000 for her accommodation.

After moving home to Leeds at the start of lockdown, Sara says she has hardly had any lectures since February, when staff at her university went on strike.

She has showed the BBC an email in which she was told that all teaching for final year students will be online this term including her seminars and dissertation supervisions and that in-person teaching in her second term ‘will depend on the Covid-19 situation closer to the time’.

Sara says the university’s response has left her feeling frustrated. She told the BBC: “If I knew that we were going to be online for the first semester I wouldn't have got accommodation for this term at all."

On top of that she says she's received very little information about what campus life will be like and whether she’ll be able to spend any time there at all.

She continued: “Do I need to be in London or not? Do I need to go in or not? There's no point in [just] sitting in my house. I do think there should be some kind of reduction with everything online. You still get an education but they should reduce the amount you're paying.”

The University of St Andrews also announced at the end of August that some courses would be entirely online in the first seven weeks of term, however many students had already signed accommodation contracts months the announcement was made, with reports from some suggesting that the university had actually encouraged students to return. 

Lottie, a third-year student in philosophy and history of art, said: "In June or July, they said that all students should plan to come back to St Andrews at the start of term and it would be dual teaching - everything they could do in person they would do, with the rest online.

"They did say they would give people the option to study completely online from home, but when you applied to do that you needed to have a specific reason.”

University of St Andrews Principal, Sally Mapstone, said the sudden change was down to the ‘late changes to the way A-level and Higher exam results were calculated’ meaning they were obliged to admit ‘significantly more entrants than would otherwise have been the case’.

Ms Mapstone said: “Our teaching arrangements are hugely important, but we are also focusing extremely closely on safety beyond the classroom, and how we support and ensure the safe behaviour of our student community in town."

King's College London said: "We are prioritising the safety of our students and staff, by developing a flexible approach to the start of the new academic year and where it is safe to do so, we are planning for some small group teaching to take place on campus."

Universities UK (UUK) said it expected the vast majority of universities to retain some in-person teaching, with a recent survey revealing that  97% of those who responded are planning some in-person teaching for the new academic year.

UUK said: “In addition, the overwhelming majority are providing some in-person social activities and support and wellbeing. Most students will experience a blended offer of online and in-person underpinned by a safety first approach," it said.

However the National Union of Students (NUS) said universities must be ‘honest and clear about the practicality of studies resuming’ with

president, Larissa Kennedy, saying the government needs to offer a ‘bigger package of financial support for student renters - many of whom have struggled to pay rent and fallen into arrears’.

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