The University of Manchester is facing a growing backlash from students after it became the first to disclose plans to keep its courses permanently online without tuition reduction.
More than 3,000 students have signed a petition condemning the Red Brick University for its plans to offer only in-person seminars – with lecture halls to remain vacant even after the pandemic. Vice President April McMahon has also ruled out offering a tuition reduction.
However, the University of Manchester is committed to continuing to teach in person for these conferences with an “interactive” element – such as question and answer sessions.
Other universities are said to be considering similar approaches after the pandemic, although Manchester, one of the UK’s largest universities, is seen as the first to make an official announcement.
Student Emily Bennett, who started the petition against e-learning, said: “Students are obviously unhappy with the decision as we don’t feel we’ve been consulted enough on the issue, and in particular for human matters, this change would lead to a decrease in contact hours per week ”
She added: “Obviously, it is essential that there is an option for online learning due to the restrictions and ongoing access requirements, but the majority of students could and would prefer to return to teaching online. nobody for the next academic year. “
The anger came in response to an interview with student newspaper The Tab, in which vice-president April McMahon said the university was planning to move towards a long-term “blended learning” model and that there would be “absolutely no” costs. discounts for students because “it is more expensive to produce a lot of the material, to ensure that it is inclusive, accessible and of high quality”.
Blended learning manager Danielle George confirmed in an excerpt from the interview shared with the Guardian that this would mean large conferences would stay online because they are “didactic and not interactive.” However, she added, “there is not much going on across the university” that is not interactive.
Ayma Khan, a student studying change for college, said in the clip: “So far the data we have and the students I’ve spoken to are so demotivated by online learning that ‘they don’t want anything online.
The interviews follow an earlier statement released by the university that unveiled blended learning as the “default teaching model” going forward. The statement said in-person sessions on campus would be reserved for “labs, seminar discussions or in-depth Q&A,” while explanatory material, supposed to include lectures, would be available via video.
“People are very angry,” said Ben McGowan, the freshman in politics and sociology who conducted the interview for the Tab. “It doesn’t feel like it’s done for accessibility reasons, it feels like it’s profit driven, a way to take shortcuts without lowering tuition fees. “
The move follows an eventful year for relations between the University of Manchester and its students. Last fall, students demolished fences erected outside residences in strong protest against the university’s botched response to the pandemic. This later resulted in large-scale rent strikes and a vote of no confidence in Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell.
A spokesperson for Universities UK said: ” The universities continually review their learning and teaching strategies, and examine how and when to integrate more blended benefits in a pandemic-free future.
“It’s not clear at this point whether blended learning will be a lifelong feature. “
Last week, vice-chancellors of several universities in Wales told MPs that ‘some things work better online, especially some large conferences’, and that they expected this to continue after the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the University of Manchester said: “This is not about online education, but to increase in-person lectures, seminars, labs, Q&A, discussions and workshops with high quality online material for self-study. We have been discussing with students for some time how to increase flexibility and choice and will continue to do so to help shape this activity according to their needs and the needs of each discipline.
“Once the pandemic is over and social distancing is no longer necessary, if the big conferences – or any other sizable conferences – are interactive, they will take place in person. “