Covid-19 ravages academic calendar and challenges students and universities alike

The novel Coronavirus, dubbed Covid-19, has certainly caused much tragedy as it sweeps across the planet with infection rates and death tolls reaching unprecedented levels – certainly in recent history. As governments dig deep to generate cash to cushion raging unemployment and prevent mass business failures, the knock-on effects of the pandemic on students are stacking up.

Courtesy of Top Universities.com, we have compiled just a small selection of news items that show what’s affecting students and their colleges, various government actions and responses, and the issues causing serious concerns across the globe.

UK – Imperial College London has warned of widespread cuts due to financial damage caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
Even august institutions such as ICL fear they will feel the pinch of pandemic-related losses prompting its president to take a voluntary 20% pay cut. Guardian, April 20. 

US – Teachers at US schools have said many students are not logging on to join online classes.

Concerns arise as students, provided with on-line study while their schools are shuttered, are simply not participating. One student commented: “Most are under the impression that school is optional given the circumstances we are in.” New York Times, April 6

UK – Incoming first-year students may begin their first term at university online, with plans being made to move freshers’ weeks online. Financial concerns appearing in sharp relief.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank says: “I feel for these young people as their A-levels have been disrupted and they won’t get to go to their school leavers’ proms. Now they may not have their freshers’ weeks either.”

He warns that if home students don’t turn up in September, institutions will face a dangerous cut in income. “Some universities will start falling over. Universities will play a valuable part in pulling us out of the recession that is coming, so it is more important than ever that they survive.” Guardian, April 3

UK – GCSE and A-Level students will have their grades predicted using a mix of teacher assessment, class ranking and past performance of pupils from that school. Unions raise concerns.

Due to schools being closed and on-going lockdown restrictions, OfQual moves to assessments to produce A level and GCSE examination grades. This receives general approval but the University and Colleges Union expresses concerns that some students will be disadvantaged. Guardian, April 3

US – Wharton School is offering a six-week online course covering the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic.

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has hastily assembled a six-week on-line course designed to assess the damage caused by Covid-19 and create strategies for managing businesses in a pandemic environment. It is already proving popular with 1900 participants signed up so far, its largest ever take-up for an on-line course.  TopMBA, April 2

UK – Hundreds of university staff are facing redundancy as universities try to cut costs.

Even leading universities are beginning to batten down the hatches in-order to weather the financial storm brewing in the wake of Covid-19. Facing huge losses as foreign and domestic students alike are unable to start or continue studies, lecturers and other staff are being made redundant at Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex. High-revenue earning students from countries such as China are important to universities these days and the virus is causing unprecedented disruption worldwide to student (and general), mobility. Guardian, April 2

Australia – Australian universities are expected to change their admissions policy for domestic students whose final school exams have been postponed.

With Covid-related disruption taking its toll upon examinations, Australian universities look to modify their admissions policies. In a session with government representatives, the education council said after the meeting “Ministers agreed that it is important that no senior secondary student is disadvantaged. Future decisions will ensure equitable outcomes for all senior secondary students as they complete their schooling.” Guardian, April 1

UK – UK universities may have their student numbers capped for the coming year, to prevent them overloading with students to take in more tuition fees.

Facing huge income deficits, British universities have been told they may face caps on student admissions to avoid them overloading their resources in an effort to cover the shortfalls. Concerns have been expressed that a rush by some universities to recruit extra high numbers of domestic students could be to the detriment of less-prestigious institutions. “Unless there are significant developments, this will happen,” said one policymaker involved in the discussions between the government and universities.

Although the idea is backed by representative body Universities UK, some members of The Russell Group were opposed to such a cap – the first since 2015 when student number restrictions were lifted.

The Guardian reported that Vice-chancellors were already nervous about their international student recruitment for this year and 2021, especially those relying on students from China, who now account for 120,000 full-time students in the UK.  Guardian, March 30

UK – Nearly 250,000 students at UK universities have called for a tuition fee refund in an online petition. Some student accommodation providers are also demanding payment for unoccupied rooms, vacated by students who have left following closure of their colleges.

Citing disappointment that their university experience, already affected by industrial action on the part of some lecturers in recent times, has not lived up to expectations, some students are asking for refunds. Inability to use libraries and other facilities that are normally provided as part of a course package are also being included in their grievances. Calls have been made for government to step in and help by waiving elements of tuition fee loans.

A similar picture is emerging with regards to student housing where some providers are reported to be demanding outstanding rents for unoccupied rooms. The Guardian reports that National Union of Students has asked the government to protect student tenants by banning evictions, waiving rents for at least three months, and releasing students from rental contracts for next year without incurring penalties. In response, some landlords are offering concessions but clearly, they have investor interests in-mind too, as concerns about the on-going virus related continue. Guardian, March 25