Naz Panju: Are online lessons going to be a permanent shift at UK universities?

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The Ultimate Corona-Virus Excuse.

By Naz Panju MPhil (cantab).

It has been two years since the pandemic hit us and many businesses and institutions are bracing themselves for further variants and outbreaks.

Indeed, many believe that life will not go back to what it used to be with the virus looking like being part of our lives for the next five years at least.

Alternatives to lockdowns are being considered across the world and there are big calls to ensure schools are not hit with any more closures going forward. The pandemic is here to stay and we must learn to live with it. 

Yet, in many of our most prestigious UK universities we see the continued use of online lectures.

Whilst this started out as the most obvious route to keep universities open, some fear that this is now being braced as a permanent shift and feature in leading UK Universities. It is obviously more cost effective and more convenient for lecturers to record their lecture – they can use it again rather than repeat it across subjects if needed and again the following year too. Not to mention the reduced costs of using lecture rooms, utilities, cleaning bills etc. There seems to be no coherent practice followed amongst universities, each following their own model and students finding out only at the start of each term what they can expect.

Recently Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi cautioned universities against the move to online lectures and this was also supported by MPs such as Robert Halfon. The news was met with relief by many students and parents who have had little option but to accept the status quo or write to the University Vice Chancellors and get standard replies back with no change in sight. 

Students in the UK pay £9250 annual fees – which the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has said remains the highest among industrialised countries.

For many this will be the largest debt of their lives and one which many will never be able to afford to pay back. Further questioning the value for money they are getting when the lectures are then delivered online. Many parents and students are questioning how they can be charged the same amount, for a lower service, for not one, but going into the third year in some instances.

Many question how teaching a degree course can be done effectively using a recorded lecture?

Courses like psychology, Medicine and even Law are being taught online bringing the long-term credibility of these careers into question. Furthermore, would it lead to lower student performance at the end of this fiasco? In an age where the UK is crying out for more apprenticeships and hands on experience to add to our workforce we are backtracking to recorded lectures as a form of delivery with little or no hands on teaching /experience. 

Students go to universities to access world renowned lecturers, state of the art lecture rooms, facilities that are the pride of the UK Higher Education offering. They go to university to make friends, interact with others, debate their ideas in academic settings & build social networks that will serve them through their lives.

But when many courses are resorting to you-tube recorded lectures accessed from students bedrooms and a program that will end with not making friends, little access to their tutors and no social interaction from their courses after two full years at university, then it is easy to see why many are questioning the value for money. And I am not going to even start touching on the impact of mental health on a young person sitting isolated in their halls of residence, dismayed at what their once in a life-time university experience is turning out to be. How long this will go on for?

We then have the case of International students.

If you think £9250 per annum is expensive for a British student, the very same course (you-tube recording and all) costs International students an eye-watering £12250 – £18000 per annum for a science based course.

Many of these students come from families that are not fantastically rich but from families who like their British counterparts are investing in their children. With savings or loans that will take years to pay back if ever. How can we justify giving them a recording of a lecture with very little access to their tutors and little hope of integrating into UK life or making British friends?

Where is the added value of being mentality challenged by your tutors, critical thinking academia brings and debating your viewpoints with your fellow class mates?

What remains the point of coming to the UK to study if it means accessing online lectures from their bedroom with none of these other value added propositions in place?

UK Universities are the pride of our country and an institution we should all be very proud of. We rank amongst the top of the world.

You see this even more obviously when you work with foreign students that can study anywhere in the world but choose to invest in UK universities instead. We need to maintain the sanctity of these institutions and preserve what they offer and stand for. The threat of this new modus operandi fills me with dread as I see not only British students but International students too questioning the value for money and experience they will get if this form of teaching and University experience is normalised. 

With more creative thinking from the greatest minds in our country, is it not time for UK universities to get more creative in their methods of dealing with this pandemic?

Some Universities are completely f2f and have set the example that it is indeed possible. If lecture halls have too many students in them when full, then deliver them in smaller groups with social distancing – maybe even with masked students. Record them at the same time for students that are infected with the virus or are vulnerable as the exception for listening in online. These are just my solutions – our world leading professors and researchers can come up with far more creative ways I would like to think. Yes it costs more, but I cannot think of any institution that is coming out of this pandemic profiting from a lower service for the same money – and UK Universities should not be either. 

This surely cannot be the best of what our world class institutions, the greatest minds in our countries and most reputable institutions have resorted to after this pandemic? 

Naz Panju MPhil (cantab) is Director of BCIE Ltd – Global & Largest Education Recruitment Agency that brings in students from West Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East into the UK, Conservative Friends of Education Head of Policy, National Group Leader Education for Conservative Policy Forum.

To join Conservative Friends of Education: Click here

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