Are student halls different?
Halls of residence have been less crowded. Many universities were predicting a drop in international students thanks to Brexit. The coronavirus pandemic has kept even more away, so most pupils are UK residents already.
Most universities are cleaning communal areas – kitchens, bathrooms, lounges – more regularly.
Some universities considered segregating halls based on course subjects, to reduce interaction with people from other bubbles.
What about freshers flu?
As Warwick University pointed out to its students, because the symptoms of freshers flu are similar to coronavirus, those who experienced mild symptoms would need to self-isolate until they are tested and the results return as negative.
This means any students who have symptoms such as a persistent new cough, a loss of taste or smell and a high temperature would need to self-isolate, along with those they have been in contact with.
How much tuition is online?
Most universities held most lectures online. Many said that smaller groups of students would be able to meet in socially distanced tutorials.
In May, the University of Cambridge became the first British institution to announce that it would hold all lectures online for the entire 2020-21 academic year. Tutorials and smaller classes could take place in person, the university said, provided they could conform to social distancing requirements. The University of Manchester made its lectures online at least for the autumn semester.
By contrast, the University of Bolton said it intended to install “airport-style walk-through temperature scanners at every building entry” and make face masks compulsory in order to ensure that the campus was fully opened in September.
Universities are to move learning online by 9 December following the Christmas ‘travel window.’
Will it change with each term?
It is hard to say how long these restrictions will last; that depends entirely on how the pandemic progresses.
Universities UK addresses this uncertainty in its set of guidelines, Principles and Considerations: Emerging from Lockdown. “Restrictions relating to Covid-19 may continue for some time or be lifted and then be imposed again in response to further national or localised outbreaks,” the document stated. “The principles within this document will still apply, subject to the lifting of subsequent Covid-19 restrictions.”
Will fees be affected?
In April, Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister, announced that current students would not be entitled to refunds or compensation for their learning moving online if it was still of high quality.
“We have already seen over the last few months courses being delivered online and virtually at an amazing quality and degree and I know the efforts that staff across the sector have made to be able to facilitate that,” she said.
Not everyone is happy with that. A QS survey revealed 75 per cent of students think tuition fees ought to be discounted if they have to study online this year.
Can I get a fee refund?
The Department for Education has said that if universities are “unable to facilitate adequate online tuition then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms”.
In order to pursue a refund, you would have to complain directly to your university. If that is unsuccessful, you may appeal, using a “completions procedure form” from your university with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) in England or Wales, or Scottish Public Services Ombudsman or Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, if your university is in one of those countries.
Thousands of students have demanded refunds of tuition fees, fearing coronavirus will ruin their university experiences.
More universities are telling students that all teaching will be online-only.
Many students are disappointed by this, arguing they are getting bad value for money, while more than 3,000 have been trapped in their halls under recent university lockdowns.
Hundreds of thousands of people signed an online petition to refund tuition fees for 2020-21 due to Covid-19.
Are the numbers of students down? How many people are deferring their places?
Universities have seen a downturn in new students this year. A survey from the University and College Union found that 71 per cent of applicants preferred to delay starting university if it meant they would get more face-to-face teaching.
Independent research from the University of Leicester found 41 per cent of 2,000 surveyed UK students considered deferring their places until 2021 because of uncertainty over online courses and safety.
Yet the ability to defer was not guaranteed. The University of Oxford, for example, said it did not encourage it: “Subject to any public health conditions still being in force, we are expecting to welcome a full cohort of new undergraduates in October 2020, so we will not routinely support requests for deferral. Any offer holders with particular, verifiable reasons to wish to defer their place should contact the college which made their offer or open-offer to discuss this.”
Each university and each college at Oxford or Cambridge have considered deferrals on a case-by-case basis, so it’s best to contact your university directly.
If students defer their entries, this could spell trouble for universities – especially because their intake of international students was lower this year. Universities expect to lose £2.5bn in funding next year due to the loss of international students (who pay higher fees), who are unable to travel to the UK.
What is happening around the world?
The chancellor of California State University, a 23-campus system of higher education in the US state, said it would be cancelling classes for the autumn semester, with all instruction taking place online. Other American universities said that they intended to re-open their campuses this autumn, but they were also making back-up online plans.
Other American universities shortened their autumn semesters, cancelled the mid-term break and sent students home for winter break at Thanksgiving, in late November, in order to avoid the beginning of the flu season. Some scientists have predicted that there will be a second spike of coronavirus cases when flu season hits.
And in Europe, even as schools have re-opened with social distancing measures across the continent, universities have found themselves at the back of the queue in terms of priorities. In part, this is because online teaching at a tertiary level has found relative success.