Universities should not opt for online learning to cut costs, minister says

Universities should not opt for online learning instead of face-to-face teaching to cut costs, a minister has said.

In-person teaching has been allowed at universities for all courses since May, after Covid lockdown measures meant some degrees had been online-only for months.

But even though there are no longer restrictions on face-to-face learning, a number of universities have decided to keep some virtual elements.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said on Wednesday online learning can be useful – but should not be done to keep costs down.

“Students are consumers, they do have rights. They should be getting what they’ve been informed they were going to get,” she told the education select committee.

“But it’s not as simple as saying online is bad, face-to-face is good, because in some scenarios it can add, but it should never be used as a cost-cutting exercise.”

She said some online provision can “enhance learning” and some students have requested it.

But she told MPs: “Online should never be used as a cost-cutting exercise or to devalue education or take away from it, and that we’re very clear on.

“I’m writing to vice-chancellors this week once again on this matter to reinforce our message on it.”

The government has said it expects universities to return to delivering face-to-face teaching, including lectures, now that restrictions have been removed.

Professor Tansy Jessop, pro vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, said around a third of learning was online.

She told MPs: “I think if we switched off all our online media they’d be quite anxious.”

Other universities which have decided to continue providing some online teaching include the University of Liverpool, the University of Kent and University College London.

The University of Portsmouth said students wanted to “keep some of the positive changes” that blended learning offered last year and so were keeping some online components this term.

Universities UK, which represents over 100 institutions, said universities are “maximising face-to-face opportunities” this term given the restrictions of the past year, but that some elements, such as large lectures, may still be online “where there are clear benefits for students or for public health reasons”.

Additional reporting by Press Association


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