Minister hints at change to online term as government plans staggered student return in March

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Durham may be asked by the government to change its plans for a fully online term as the Department of Education outlined plans for a staggered return of students in early March.

The Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, recently revealed in an interview with The Tab that universities who had made the decision to hold teaching entirely online, such as Durham, will be “given the option to alter those plans”.

The Minister expected an announcement by 22nd February, in which Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, would lay out a “phased” plan to let students go back, beginning on 8th March. The plan is expected to prioritise science degrees, final-year students, and postgraduates in practical degrees.

The plans come despite several universities stating that teaching would be entirely online for the rest of the year, including Cambridge and The London School of Economics and Political Science. However, Durham only committed to an additional term of online learning rather than a full year and would have an easier time adapting to the new arrivals.

With no face-to-face teaching for the forseeable future and all exams set to be online, it is unclear if the return policy will be used if students do not have an incentive to go back to university.

Donelan stressed that they did not want a repeat of the beginning of the academic year when thousands of students across the country arrived at university only to be confined in accommodation.

The phased return matches a similar model that Durham University used at the beginning of Ephiphany term, in which students doing “Group A” degrees (consisting of science, mathematical and practical subjects) were given priority to return faster while “Group B” (predominantly humanities students) had their face-to-face learning pushed back to account for later returns.

Despite government and university regulations advising against it, a significant portion of students have already returned to where they’re studying. Research by the Guardian indicates that most universities are at 30-40% student capacity, with one reporting as high as 70%.

Data from Durham Polling indicates that 38% of students were in Durham at the beginning of Ephiphany, with an additional 27% planning to return later on in the term.

Image: Gareth Milner via Flickr

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