Despite government appeals for face-to-face teaching, UK universities are still moving to online learning

As Omicron instances continue to grow, several UK universities are defying government requests for face-to-face instruction.

Durham University is one of 15 British universities to reintroduce online learning, announcing that the new academic year would begin digitally. For the first two weeks of the semester, the institution has chosen to present “a blended learning offering,” with the intention of returning to face-to-face instruction during the third week unless the situation changes.

“It continues to be our policy to deliver a high-quality, in person teaching and learning experience,” Durham University told its students. “However, we recognise there may be times throughout the term, as we manage the current wave of Omicron infections, where some changes to methods of delivering our high-quality education may be required.

Labs and practical sessions will continue to use “current, robust Covid-mitigation procedures,” while student participation in broader activities like outdoor sports will be contingent on documentation of a negative LFT (lateral flow test). In the meanwhile, the institution advises students to receive a booster shot.

Last year, Queen’s University Belfast stated that the majority of its sessions would be held online in January. This restriction will not apply to students on programs that require either practical lessons, such as lab sessions and clinical skills, or face-to-face teaching, which is required for professional accreditation or academic growth.

During this time, the university’s library, study areas, and support services will remain available.

More than 100 UK universities are offering a mix of in-person and online learning, said reports.

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has criticised the decision to move online, saying that UK universities have “no excuse” for cancelling face-to-face learning when schools and colleges are being taught in person.

“I want to repeat that my expectation of universities is that they deliver face-to-face education,” he told The Sunday Times. “They need to deliver it and if students feel they are not getting value for money, they should take that up with the Office for Students.”

He reminded colleges that the country would be dealing with coronavirus for at least the next five years, and that despite Omicron being a “significant stumbling block,” there is still a need to “return to a world where students are getting value for money and face-to-face education.”

Students at UK institutions pay more than 9,000 pounds a year to attend classes. International students are frequently charged twice or three times the price charged to domestic students.

“Universities in England are doing all they can to prioritise in-person teaching and learning at the start of term, and continue to work closely with health authorities and relevant government departments to keep students and staff safe,” a spokesperson for Universities UK told MailOnline.

This includes taking precautions to manage the virus, such as using face masks, doing regular asymptomatic testing, and developing outbreak preparations in the event of an increase in cases.

Michelle Donelan, the Minister for Higher and Further Education, has urged colleges to be “completely honest with students about the return to face-to-face learning.”

“There are options available to students if they feel they have not received what they were promised — over half a million pounds has already been refunded by providers as a result of complaints…on a wide variety of issues, and greater clarity from universities will help even more students get reimbursements where appropriate,” Donelan told The Tab. “Above all, universities must listen to students when making any changes to the way courses are delivered.”

Many countries throughout the world are experiencing a return to online learning in colleges, including the United States. This includes Ivy League schools, which have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases on their campuses. As a result, many universities in the United States are taking immediate action to limit the virus’s spread.

A representative from Association American University (AAU) said, “At Cornell University, surveillance testing recently identified a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases on campus. To limit further spread, Cornell University President Martha Pollack announced that final exams will move online and that most university activities are cancelled.”

Yale University has delayed the start of its spring term by one week, choosing to move the first two weeks of classes online for students.

“To slow the spread of the virus following winter recess, we will modify the academic calendar for Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for the first few weeks of the spring semester,” the university’s president and provost said in a joint statement. “We are working with deans of professional schools, who will be communicating with students soon about any adjustments necessary to courses and schedules.”

Most universities in Australia are adopting hybrid teaching models for the 2022 academic year, offering a mix of in-person and online lessons after the country recently opened its borders to international students.

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