Covid in Scotland: Students told they will get one in-person tutorial a fortnight

Some students at a Scottish university have been told they may only receive as little as one hour in-person teaching a fortnight for their main subject, despite returning to campus for the new academic year.

A student at the University of Glasgow said she had been told her second year degree course would be almost entirely online – with just one tutorial every two weeks held in person for her main subject.

The student, who is studying civil engineering with architecture, said her timetable had been sent out to her as she returned to campus for the new term.

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The architecture part of her course, which does have some in-person sessions but makes up only a small part of her degree course, had been due to be taught at Glasgow School of Art, however this has been moved to the University of Glasgow.

One student at the University of Glasgow said she had been told she would only get one hour of in-person teaching per fortnight.

For engineering, all practical lessons and workshops for the engineering part of her course have also been cancelled for the coming three months.

In the summer, most Scottish universities said they would work on a blended learning model, with some lectures held online and other teaching in person.

They said that large lectures of over 50 people, which often make up a high proportion of undergraduate students’ learning time, would be watched remotely online, or pre-recorded, with only smaller group learning and tutorials carried out face-to-face at the vast majority of universities.

The student said: “We thought it would be much more normal this term, but it’s not, it’s exactly the same. I actually had more tutorials last year – they were online, but there was more of them.”

She said the university’s course brochure claims to place “considerable emphasis” on practical work – which has all been scrapped for this term. In-person labs have been scheduled for the course for semester two of the academic year, when the university told the student it hoped to return to more face-to-face teaching. She said friends doing other subjects had more in-person teaching.

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Scottish university lectures to continue online in new term

She said: “I find it really concerning because the standard of education has completely dropped. Online, no-one is guiding you through it and making sure you keep up to date. It feels like the university is reluctant to change the online system they had set up and prioritise our education and our mental health. Doing the work online is not the same at all. After a whole year of it last year, everyone is dreading it again this year. There’s such a lack of motivation.

"The mental health toll it takes on you for a whole year is awful.”

She added: “The restrictions on numbers for other activities such as weddings have been so big, yet universities are restricting lectures to 50. It doesn’t make sense when you’ve got people clubbing.”

Other universities in Scotland said they planned to offer a mix of in-person and online learning. Earlier this week, Westminster education secretary Gavin Williamson told English universities students should expect to be taught "in-person and alongside other students".

He said it would only be right to stay online when there's a "genuine benefit to using technology".

A spokeswoman for the University of Edinburgh said that while individual schools will have specific plans, the university’s teaching will be centred around in-person teaching and digital mix – with most online learning being for larger lectures of over 50 people.

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said he hoped the university would increase in-person teaching next semester.

He said: “Safety is our priority, and we are following Scottish Government guidance to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of all members of our community.

“In semester one, we are planning on a blend of campus and online teaching. However, due to physical distancing restrictions, lectures and classes held on campus will not generally exceed 50 students. Larger group classes will be online. There will also be programme-specific on-campus activities such as peer-assisted and group study sessions and guest speaker events which do not appear in formal timetables and which will be scheduled by the schools.”

He added: “There are both on-campus sessions and group-work sessions in the Civil Engineering with Architecture course in question. There will be more face-to-face teaching in semester two, assuming that the Scottish Government’s Covid regulations continue to be relaxed.”

Higher and Further Education Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “We have worked extensively with universities, colleges and the sector to develop guidance to support the safe return of students and the wider resumption of in-person learning and student activities for the new term. It is for institutions to determine the level of in-person teaching they will offer for the new term, in line with agreed guidance.

“There will be no large lectures, physical distancing will still be in place and there will be a mix of online and in-person learning. We urge students to continue to be cautious and follow good hand hygiene, follow physical distancing where possible, wear a face-covering in public places, isolate if showing symptoms and get tested regularly.”

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