Decisions have been made on the assumption that social distancing will be required during the next yearLouis Ashworth

A leaked email seen by Varsity outlines plans for all lectures in the 2020-21 academic year to be conducted virtually.

Head of Education Services, Alice Benton wrote to Senior Tutors today (19/05) to inform them that the ‘General Board’s Education Committee’ has ‘agreed that, since it is highly likely that rigid social distancing will be required throughout the next academic year, there will be no face-to-face lectures next year.’

Benton writes that the ‘decision has been taken to provide a degree of certainty to facilitate Faculties and Departments when planning for educational delivery next academic year’ and proposes that the move is ‘in line with thinking across the sector’.

Today’s email states that lectures will be live-streamed, as well as being recorded and made available on Moodle. Plans are currently underway to ensure that ‘the delivery of lectures online will be of the best possible quality.’

It is intended that online lectures will allow lecture theatres to be used for ‘smaller group teaching’ which follows ‘social distancing requirements.’ However, the email also acknowledges that, in preparing teaching resources, ‘thought should also be given to how this teaching can be delivered remotely should some students not be able to return to residence, or if there is another phase of lockdown preventing students from leaving their College.’

Benton adds that these decisions have been ‘made on the understanding that it may be possible to roll back from this position should social distancing measures be lifted and large gatherings permitted later in the academic year.’

The email defines lectures as ‘large group teaching delivered generally in a non-participatory way.’

The email continues to propose that whilst large group lectures must be conducted virtually, this might also extend to other forms of teaching: ‘Faculties and Departments should continue to plan for face-to-face delivery of seminars, workshops and small group teaching’ whilst still ‘subject to strict social distancing requirements.’

Benton also mentions examinations due to be held in Michaelmas Term, stating that it is ‘highly unlikely [that] these examinations will be able to take place in examination halls’ as ‘the taking of examinations in exam halls cannot comply with rigid social distancing requirements’. As such, Faculties are encouraged to ‘plan for online delivery’ of assessments.

The position on exams will be ‘kept under review’, but Faculty and Departmental planning should also ‘prepare for there being no examinations in examination halls at all next academic year’.

A University spokesperson told Varsity that these decisions are being “taken now to facilitate planning” but that they would “be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus”.

The use of University spaces is now under review as a ‘matter of urgency’ by the ‘Project Board for Education Space’, which is chaired by the Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education.

Alongside the University Information Service (UIS) and Occupational Health teams, the Board is now engaged in the production of ‘guidance for the safe use of teaching space that would apply both to centrally managed spaces and to Faculty and Departmental teaching spaces.’

Additionally, the Board will ‘review and make recommendations on the best way to ensure that appropriate space for small group teaching is available to all Faculties and Departments who need it, whether locally or centrally managed.’

Today’s announcement indicates a major shift in the University’s delivery of teaching and raises further questions around the possible impact the provision of virtual teaching might have on intake for the 2020-21 academic year.


Mountain View

Exam timetable notice period shortened from four weeks to 14 days

The Office for Students (OFS) insisted yesterday (18/05) that students should be warned if courses will be taught online before the deadline for students to accept university offers in June.

Chief Executive of the universities regulator, Nicola Dandridge, told members of the Education Select Committee that there should be ‘absolute clarity’ for students, ‘so they know what they’re getting in advance of accepting offers’.

The University of Manchester also announced similar plans last week (11/05). It stated that it intends that all lectures for Semester 1 would be delivered online, but has encouraged students to attend the campus in the autumn as the University is ‘keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials’.