King’s College London ditches online-only classes amid return of face-to-face lessons

King’s College London has announced it is ditching online-only lectures – as the government threatened universities with massive financial penalties. 

It is the first of the 24 Russell group universities to abandon the move to online as many institutions have chosen to keep digital-only lessons a permanent fixture. 

This week KCL publicly confirmed that it ‘will not be offering a remote study option in 2022/23’. 

Campaigners at Keep It Real KCL had previously accused the university of ‘restricting students’ on-campus time, compelling them to remain bound to their computer screens for pre-recorded lectures and online seminars.’ 

This week the government told universities they could be fined up to £500,000 if they failed to ensure students are taught in person. 

Universities minister Michelle Donelan wants an investigation into staff attendance on campus as most universities said lecturers had returned to campuses but some institutions were still using online or ‘blended’ methods, with a mix of both remote learning and in-person tuition.

She is cracking down on online-only teaching, accusing universities of ‘letting students down’ by placing them on a ‘second track to the rest of society’. 

The Russell group university has come under fire for not switching to in-person lectures sooner (pictured) Weston Education Centre, King’s College London

Minister of State for Universities Michelle Donelan has called out universities that have not returned to in-person lectures now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted

Minister of State for Universities Michelle Donelan has called out universities that have not returned to in-person lectures now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted

Students had complained about the lack of return to face-to-face lessons after Covid restrictions were lifted on February 24. 

King’s student Blanca told the Tab last year: ‘This has affected my performance. My grades may not have gone down massively but it’s noticeable to me. I feel like we’ve been left to fend for ourselves and figure it all out.’

Last year complaints to universities hit a record high, with more than a third of the 2,763 appeals to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education (OIA) relating to Covid measures, and payouts to students totaling £1.3 million, according to The Telegraph

Keep It Real KCL, run by 15 students, launched a campaign last September asking the university to drop ‘blended learning’ and return to normality, likening their experience of digital classes to ‘being in a student hostel watching Ted talks’. 

The group ran a petition that got 350 signatures, accusing universities of hypocrisy by ‘advertising in-person freshers fairs, mid-week sports socials, and nightclubs, yet keeping our lectures and many of our seminars online’.

Joseph Wiltshire, 22, who led the campaign said: ‘We certainly view this as a victory, we initially set out the campaign wanting in-person teaching and seminars but quickly realised that online lectures were going to be prevalent – they were too easy for universities.’

The OIA said ‘some students found that they weren’t getting the learning experiences that they reasonably expected’, prompting complaints about ‘service issues’ and technology problems.

Mr Wiltshire, a second-year history student, continued: ‘So the new goal became to get back to pre-pandemic levels of teaching. We have achieved that, we’ve been in constant discussion for months and months and shown them that students want it, we’ve proven the benefits of it both socially and for mental health.’

He said his peers felt ‘disassociated’ during online classes, which cannot replace ‘the atmosphere and buzz of a lecture hall, full of like-minded students.’

Kings College University of London Strand campus buildings has had students campaigning for weeks to come back to in-person classes

Kings College University of London Strand campus buildings has had students campaigning for weeks to come back to in-person classes

Campaigners at Keep It Real KCL also accused the college of using the pandemic to ‘maximise profits by limiting on-campus time to enrol an exponential amount of students that will not require extra space’. 

Three-quarters of universities – 111 out of 146 – are still teaching parts of their courses online despite the lifting of all Covid rules, according to The Telegraph.

A King’s College London spokesman said: ‘In-person teaching has always been the focus at King’s, and we continue to make the most of in-person teaching this Semester, balanced alongside the university’s commitment to those students who have not managed to make it to London and the uncertainty caused by Covid disruption to our scheduled on-campus teaching.

‘Supporting our students is our top priority, as it has been throughout the last couple of challenging years. We know that an on-campus experience is a vital part of university education, with an opportunity to develop your own identity and a sense of belonging and that is why we always planned for and are committed to a level of in-person contact time on degree programmes consistent with that approved pre-pandemic, using technology and digital content to enhance, but not replace, in-person teaching.’

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