New information suggests many UK universities will face issues as they shift to online teaching for the coming academic year.
Former vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University Sir Tim O’Shea warned today that only 20 UK universities are in “a good position to provide a range of high-quality online courses by the start of the new academic year.” While King’s is included in the 20, other world-class universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are not on that list. This comes in the wake of the UCU’s warning of significantly reduced tuition earnings in the same period.
Durham University’s recently revised proposal to shift 100% of its modules online in the 2020/2021 academic year was criticized by O’Shea, who called the strategy “hopelessly unrealistic.” He describes the university as having the will to implement online teaching but lacking the means.
Other universities planning to make use of third-party online education platforms may face difficulties as well. One such platform, Coursera, has reportedly received at least 29,000 business inquiries from over 6,000 universities in recent months. According to Leeds University dean of digital education Neil Morris, such companies typically only partner with “the top universities”. It is unclear whether King’s belongs to that category.
The cost of in-house online teaching is equally challenging. Deputy vice-chancellor of Coventry University Ian Dunn said it took “two years and tens of millions of pounds” to implement 19 fully online degrees. If such degrees or modules were to be implemented, their structure would have to be altered from traditional formats to accommodate the altered teaching environment.
Other difficulties, such as the necessity of lab facilities for STEM students, have led to further concerns from professors and students alike. While some universities such as the Open University feature web-accessible labs, such infrastructure would be difficult to roll out for all STEM departments across the country. Co-president of the Oxford UCU branch Aris Katzourakis said the replication of such lab environments would be impossible for their staff in many cases. A spokesperson for the NUS echoed this sentiment.