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Only two in five students satisfied with online learning amid Covid-19 – survey

By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

Just over two in five university students in the UK are satisfied with the online learning that has replaced face-to-face teaching, a survey suggests.

Less than half (43%) of students feel they have received clear communications about the next academic year from their higher education institution, according to a poll by a think tank.

The findings, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), come as the National Union of Students (NUS) is urging hundreds of thousands of students – who have missed out on their education due to the lockdown – to sign up to “mass action” to win compensation.

Only 44% of students are satisfied with the delivery of support services, such as careers and mental health support, during lockdown, according to the Hepi survey of 1,013 students.

Fewer students are satisfied with the online learning on offer than at the start of the crisis – 42% said they were either “very satisfied” or “quite satisfied” in June, compared to 49% in March.

Fewer than one in five students (19%) said they have had “very clear” communication on Covid-19 from their higher education institutions, compared to nearly a third (31%) in March.

But the majority (63%) of students are satisfied with the way their university has handled their remaining assessments for this academic year.

Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at Hepi, said: “Universities have been grappling with the challenges of a pandemic no-one predicted, leading to a swift move to online learning.”

“In some ways it is unsurprising that students are not completely satisfied with a model that has been created in such extraordinary times and some aspects, such as the handling of assessments, have clearly met with students’ approval.”

“In order to improve students’ perceptions, it is important that universities use this time to learn from students what works in terms of online learning, to develop the model available for the next academic year.”

The survey, from Hepi and YouthSight in June, suggests that 71% of students expect some learning to be online or social distancing measures to be in place in the next academic year.

But only around a quarter expect limitations to their courses or a delayed start to term – and less than a fifth (18%) expect all learning to be online.

Ms Hewitt added: “The results show that students are realistic that the next academic year is likely to be radically different to the norm. They understand that some level of social distancing is likely to remain in place and blended teaching will combine online and face-to-face teaching.”

“However, it is concerning that less than half feel they have had clear messaging from their university about the next academic year.”

“While it is difficult to predict exactly where we will be by September, it is important universities are as clear as possible in their communications to students.”

A Universities UK spokeswoman said: “Universities will provide as much in-person learning, teaching, support services and extra-curricular activities as public health advice and government guidance will allow – our recent survey shows 97% plan to deliver some in-person teaching this autumn.”

“It is critical that universities keep current and prospective students regularly informed on their plans for 2020/21 so that students fully understand the steps their chosen university will be taking.”

“Although it is likely that there will be some changes to how a degree is delivered initially because of public health requirements, we are hopeful that this will only be the case for a small part of students’ time at university.”

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