Today the University of Manchester announced that teaching will remain partially online for the first semester starting in September, due to the predicted continuation of social distancing measures.
Lecturers from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (SALC) received an email from Dr Chris Godden, a senior director, in April which stated that teachers should “prepare” for teaching to continue online in September due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. These measures will now be applicable for all schools and courses across the University.
A University spokesperson told The Mancunion that plans are in place for a blended programme of teaching:
“Our approach will be informed by the latest UK Government advice, but as we anticipate social distancing measures will be in place for some time, we have taken the decision to conduct all lectures for Semester 1 online, as a lecture theatre environment does not easily support spatial separation.
“However, we are keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can.”
Students’ Union Education Officer, Chloe Salins, published a statement on the SU website addressing the challenges that will come with a partially online start to the year:
“Whilst we do not want online learning to be the full experience here at the University, we have to be prepared for all eventualities. We are working as your officers to make sure we review and improve the quality of online learning, as well as looking at what provisions can be put in place for labs and practical sessions.”
Some students have already been using online teaching methods for a large portion of their degree this year, due to the strike action and the pandemic. Assessments and exams have been cancelled or changed to an online format, and some schools have issued a ‘no disadvantage policy’.
For a majority of students, the switch from contact-based learning to online has been difficult especially with the pressures of the ongoing pandemic affecting motivation for home learning, therefore this news could come as a huge disappointment to those already struggling.
A first year Chemical Engineering student said, “It [online learning] has been a challenge that both the staff and students have risen to. Obviously nothing compares to face in face teaching but they have put in a lot of effort to get close to this”
Another student said, “A continuation of online teaching into September is much more than just studying from podcasts or Zoom, it means missing out on a full university experience so many envisage when coming to Manchester”
“Future severe financial impacts of the pandemic on the University” were reviewed in an email sent by Vice-Chancellor, Dame Professor Nancy Rothwell on the 23rd April to all staff at UoM, which looked at how the University would be affected by the lockdown.
The email detailed plans for improvement of online teaching facilities, however some lecturers have expressed concern over the continuation of online teaching and the likelihood of this becoming a permanent feature of their jobs.
University and College Union (UCU) members have accused the vice-chancellor of taking a “money-trumps-everything tone,” with some lecturers advising their students to use the evaluation forms emailed to express any concerns they have over the move to an increase in online teaching.
Dr Simeon Gill, a senior lecturer in fashion technology and member of the UCU said, “We can only hope that changes are not rushed through ideologically, but instead are measured, inclusive and consider the voices of all affected.”
A University of Manchester spokesperson acknowledged that the current COVID-19 crisis has “created real uncertainty for all our students,” but, offered reasurances that “as a University, we are absolutely committed to delivering the highest-quality learning and student experience at Manchester whilst providing you with the most up-to-date information.”
The University sent emails to all incoming Undergratuate, Foundation, returning Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students today, informing them of their relevant start dates, which will be staggered between September 21st and October 12th 2020.