Durham’s proposal for online learning next academic year leaked

Sophie Wilson tells us of the proposals for Durham University to move learning to online next academic year, after they were slow to respond to the educational problems of Covid-19.

Sophie Wilson
19th April 2020
Sophie Wilson tells us of the proposals for Durham University to move learning to online next academic year, after they were slow to respond to the educational problems of Covid-19.

With a “radical restructure” of Durham’s face to face teaching on the cards, documents have been seen that suggest online-only degrees will be proposed by the university. 

This proposal comes in response to the Coivd-19 pandemic, and the effect that it has had on education this academic year. Durham’s curriculum may move to having online resources at its core, hence leading to an inversion of “Durham’s traditional educational model”, Palatinate has revealed. 

Deputy Vice Chancellor, Antony Long, and Vice-Provost, Alan Houston, authored a report titled “Redesigning Durham’s Educational Offer”. This found that, compared to other universities, Durham was slow at developing online courses during Covid-19 when students had to return home and were not able to attend face to face teaching. The proposals call for all degree programmes to be fully-accessible remotely. 

The desired starting point is the academic year of 2020-2021, and it would run on the basis that some students would study full time in Durham as normal, while others would just use the online resources. This would mean that the current degree programmes would be running alongside these online ones. 

By October 2020, it is hoped that the University will have its ‘key’ postgraduate and first year undergraduate programmes online. The decision of what is ‘key’ comes from the “international market potential” of the programme.

But the university also wants to roll out further online modules beyond the next academic year and the Covid-19 crisis. By the end of the next academic year, the report suggested that there will be 500 modules fully online. In the year 2021 to 2022, this number should increase again with more degrees going online. 

There were many factors that contributed to this idea, including the prospect of flexible start dates. It would mean that students could start studying either in October, January or In April. 

Staff and students have not been asked what they think as of yet, although their opinions have been understood to be a priority in the decision. There has been a letter sent to the Vice Chancellor which expresses concerns for this proposal, after many people heard this leaked piece of news. It has over 300 signatures and their main problems were that the report “does not allow for any meaningful consultation, market analysis, or risk assessment”, the Palatine reports. It suggests that many departments will be left under threat, for example the music department where performance is a key part to the degree programme. The letter made clear that there was no opposition to the current measures regarding the situation of Covid-19, but that it was the long term planning of online learning that was being contested.

The Durham University and College Union also held an Emergency General Meeting, where they decided to oppose rushed long term changes without proper consultation.

Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost Antony Long said that “We want to ensure we can continue to deliver the highest possible quality of educational offer for both current and future students”. He stated that he did not know what the 2020/2021 academic year would look like, and that measures have to be put into place so that options can be given to current and future students. He reinforced the idea that the quality of a Durham educational offer is still at the heart of decision making, but that because some students may not be able to travel to the university next year, a high quality and inclusive degree programme may have to be the way forward.     

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