Universities to return to in-person teaching or face £500,000 fine

Universities are warned to return to in-person teaching after Covid lockdown ends or face fines of up to £500,000 

  • There will be no restrictions on continual of face-to-face teaching from July 19 
  • Office for Students is monitoring the quality of teaching at universities
  • Undergraduates are still paying £9,250 a year despite learning remotely

Universities could face fines of up to £500,000 if they do not return to in-person teaching and have poor quality online lectures, it was revealed yesterday.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons that there would be no restrictions on the resumption of face-to-face teaching at universities from July 19.

The higher education regulator, the Office for Students (OfS) is monitoring the quality of teaching at universities amid record levels of student dissatisfaction.

Universities could face fines of up to £500,000 if they do not return to in-person teaching and have poor quality online lectures

Undergraduates are still paying full fees of £9,250 a year despite being forced to learn remotely during most of the pandemic.

Some institutions have already signalled they will continue online provision into 2022, with thousands of students protesting at the University of Manchester.

But Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, last night fired a warning shot to institutions over online learning. She said: ‘While they can decide to move some teaching – like large-scale lectures – online, they must be clear that standards are not being compromised.

‘We are monitoring the quality of teaching across universities and colleges in England and are ready to intervene where necessary.’ The OfS has statutory powers to act if there has been a breach of ‘conditions of registration’. This could occur if the watchdog believes there has been a massive drop in quality of teaching.

It can impose ‘additional requirements’ on institutions, restrict their access to sources of funding, or impose fines as high as £500,000. However, it is unlikely fines would be administered for keeping large-scale lectures online when students’ concerns have been heard.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons that there would be no restrictions on the resumption of face-to-face teaching at universities from July 19

An analysis by the Observer last month suggested most universities are already planning to offer a mix of in-person seminars and online lectures.

The University of Manchester says blended learning will be the ‘default model of teaching’ in future, with no reduction in fees. In-person sessions would be reserved for ‘labs, seminar discussions or in-depth Q&As’. Professor Danielle George, head of blended learning, told student newspaper The Tab that large lectures would stay online since they are ‘didactic and non-interactive’.

A petition signed by more than 4,000 students says: ‘If we wanted an online degree we would have paid 1/3 of the price to go to the Open University.’

Research by the Higher Education Policy Institute found student satisfaction is at an ‘historic low’ with almost half of 10,000 young people surveyed claiming they had ‘poor or very poor’ value for money this year. 

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