UK universities online
Studying at a UK university? Expect to begin next semester online or via blended learning. Source: Oli Scarff/AFP

International students enrolled in UK universities — are you unsure what the next semester will look like? Wondering if you’ll be spending most of your time studying and learning from home?

Brace yourself for more online learning as face-to-face classes will likely not resume for another year.

Even as lockdowns start easing next month to reopen the UK economy, the evidence points to its universities adopting “blended learning” until summer 2021 at least.

Blended learning is a hybrid of online learning and face-to-face lectures. Lectures will be conducted mostly online but face-to-face tutorials and small group sessions at UK universities may take place. Things may change according to government advice as the COVID-19 situation unfolds.

The University of Cambridge is taking the fully-online route until next summer.

According to a statement, “The university is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year.”

Lectures will proceed virtually; face-to-face smaller teaching groups, which conform to social distancing requirement, “may be possible,” a spokesman said.

Lecture halls with cramped seating arrangements that don’t allow for social distancing isn’t the only factor that makes it difficult for face-to-face classes to resume.

For international students, getting to campus is another uncertain hurdle they have to deal with. With many national borders shut, they may not be able to their home country or enter the UK.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister for England, said: “I understand that this an incredibly difficult time for students, so it is vital that universities are clear to students about how courses will be delivered in the coming year. I would urge students to think carefully about all their options and make informed decisions that best serve their futures.”

UK universities online

A woman wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, walking along a street of terraced houses in Durham, northeast England. Source: Oli Scarff/AFP

Which UK universities will continue with online learning for the 2020-21 academic year?

Some universities are delaying the start of the autumn term; others are going ahead with the scheduled dates.

Many UK universities are advising students that learning will take place via different formats for the next academic year such as via blended learning or fully -online learning.

In an email sent to students on May 11, the University of Manchester said that the academic year will start in late September, and lectures and “other aspects of learning” will be online.

According to the University of Leeds website, “We are continuing to make preparations to welcome our new students in September as usual, but with some adjustments as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19). We are currently considering a number of options, including flexibility with arrival dates, and potential for some online teaching in the first semester or a later start to the academic year on campus. We will continue to provide updates on this page.”

The University of Edinburgh stated on their website that “We intend to be ready to teach despite any travel restrictions, wherever our students are in the world,” but warned that due to the pandemic they may change the format or order of teaching.

The University of Warwick, University of Oxford, Anglia Ruskin University and Queen’s University Belfast have all confirmed to Times Higher Education that they are planning to deliver both face-to-face and online teaching.

British universities are not required to reduce tuition fees as courses are still delivered online, but must manage students’ expectations of what the next semester or academic year in the UK will look like, warned chief executive of the Office for Students Nicola Dandrige at a virtual education select committee.

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