University students told the BBC how they were only told that most of their classes for the coming term would be conducted online after paying hundreds of pounds for accommodation away from home.
Sara is a third year student from Leeds studying international development at King’s College London at a cost of £ 9,250 per year. She says she was told her course would be fully online this term on September 1 – the day she started paying almost £ 3,000 for her accommodation.
Sara moved to her home in Leeds in March, when the lockdown began, she says she has had virtually no classes since February, when university staff went on strike.
In an email, seen by the BBC, she was then informed that “all teachings for graduating students” will be online this term – including seminars and thesis supervisions. In-person teaching in its second trimester “will depend on the Covid-19 situation closer to time.”
It left him with a feeling of lack. “If I knew we were going to be online for the first semester, I wouldn’t have any accommodation for this term at all,” says Sara.
She says she has had little clue as to what life on campus will be like and whether she will – or can – spend time there.
“Do I need to be in London or not?” Should I go or not? It’s no use [just] sitting in my house, ”she says. “I think there should be some kind of reduction with everything that is online. You still get an education, but they should reduce the amount you pay. ”
The University of St Andrews also announced at the end of August that some courses will be fully online in the first seven weeks of the term.
Many students moving into the halls for their first year had already signed their contracts at the time of the announcement, while many second and third year students in private accommodation had signed contracts months ago.
Lottie, a third-year philosophy and art history student, says the university initially encouraged students to return to the city.
“In June or July they said all students should plan to come back to St Andrews at the start of the term and that it would be double teaching – anything they could do in person, they would, the rest online. .
“They said they would give people the option to study fully online from home, but when you apply for it you have to have a specific reason. “
Rhiannon, another St Andrews student studying international relations, pays £ 525 a month for a room in a shared house.
“Our house has been empty since March. I would have stayed at home and canceled my rental agreement. I actually tried to negotiate with my landlord in June because of the uncertainty and the landlord was completely adamant.
The University of St Andrews blamed the sudden change on the increase in student numbers this year.
“The late changes to the way exam scores for Level A and above were calculated forced us to admit many more participants than would otherwise have been the case,” Director Sally Mapstone said in a letter. addressed to staff and students.
“Our educational arrangements are extremely important, but we also focus very closely on safety beyond the classroom and on how we support and ensure the safe behavior of our student community in the city.
King’s College London told the BBC it “prioritizes the safety of our students and staff, developing a flexible approach to the start of the new academic year”.
“Where possible, and safe to do, we plan to have small group classes held on campus,” the university said.
Students from several other universities have also contacted the BBC with similar stories. One said she didn’t find out that her course went live four days after registering.
Universities UK, which represents 137 universities in the UK, said it expected the vast majority of universities to maintain some in-person teaching. “A recent UK survey suggested that 97% of respondents plan in-person instruction for the new academic year in accordance with government and public health guidelines.
“In addition, the vast majority offer in-person social activities, support and wellness. Most students will benefit from a blended online and in-person offering supported by a safety-first approach, ”he said.
But the National Union of Students called on universities to be “honest and clear about the practicality of resuming studies” and to “provide support with housing, finances, digital learning, support services. and transport if circumstances change ”.
NUS President Larissa Kennedy said government officials should offer “a greater package of financial support to student tenants – many of whom have struggled to pay rent and have fallen into arrears.”