The policy will be under review if advice on social distancing changes, with the university stating, “This decision has been taken now to facilitate planning, but as ever, will be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus.”
The University of Cambridge is only the second university to confirm such changes to teaching next year. Last week, the University of Manchester also announced that all lectures will remain online for at least the first semester of the 2020-21 academic year.
Their Vice President for teaching, April McMahon, sent an email to students on the 11th May stating that although there will be “little change to our start dates”, the university would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online.”
McMahon explained, “we anticipate social distancing measures will be in place for some time” and that the “lecture theatre environment does not easily support spatial separation.” However, she also added that the university was “keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching tutorials, as safely and as early as we can.”
The University of Edinburgh has also suggested that large lecture classes are unlikely to resume. The university’s principle, Professor Peter Mathieson commented, “We know that social distancing is likely to be here for some time to come and therefore having hundreds of students packed into lecture theatres close together probably isn't going to be possible.”
"But we intend to provide small-group teaching and the other campus experiences that distinguish us in a research intensive environment. So we're talking about a hybrid model."
Similarly, St Andrews University has also announced it will use "a model of dual delivery in teaching in Autumn 2020".
Amidst such changes, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has already confirmed that English universities can still charge the full tuition fees of £9,250 a year, even if their course is taught fully online.
The Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OFS), Nicola Dandridge, has warned against misleading promises from universities, stating “The important thing here is absolute clarity to students, so they know what they’re getting in advance of the accepting offers.”
“What we don’t want to see are promises that it’s all going to go back to usual – an on-campus experience – when it turns out that’s not the case.
The OFS believe that universities should provide all necessary information before A level students make their firm choice in June, and “certainly before” the clearing process which takes place in August, following A level results day.
There are concerns that such changes to teaching will affect student intake for next year, as well as the overall experience of student life.
Following Cambridge’s announcement, Twitter user @KayleighJud tweeted, “Next year will definitely be an interesting year for new Uni students. I already know a few year 13s considering deferring a year because they’re concerned about missing out on the social aspect of uni.”
Newcastle University has yet to make any announcements regarding changes to teaching in the next academic year.