More and more universities are switching to pure online teaching to stop the spread of the corona virus – but why should students pay the full fees when their teaching is exclusively online?
Few people have had their lives upended by Covid-19 as much as those who started the year on the cusp of college.
Not only were their high school goodbyes and goodbyes to high school friends abruptly cut short, but they suffered as a result chaos about the award of grades and the allocation of study places.
And this fall, they arrived at the university to find a campus very different from what they expected.
Instead of the freedom and responsibilities that come with the leap into adulthood that college brings, they have arrived with restricted use of facilities, canceled social events, and growing captivity in their rooms.
But perhaps most importantly, they are being denied the face-to-face classes that have been a staple of higher education as more universities transition to online-only teaching.
And yet the same is demanded of the students as of those who received a completely different education in previous years.
This reduced experience rarely comes with a reduced price tag.
Students in the UK, who pay tuition fees of up to £9,250 ($12,150) a year in addition to accommodation and living expenses, have been told they have little hope of a rebate.
Universities can hardly be blamed for trying to make this year as normal as possible. Many have made enormous efforts to offer face-to-face classes even when it was clear that things could not go ahead.
Lecturers have been working overtime to bring their courses online, and the fact that their classes are remote doesn’t necessarily make them any less effective.
Universities are also getting into trouble themselves. Without the lucrative business of summer conferences and tuition fees from international students, which are likely to have plummeted, university finances are being squeezed like never before.
But that has also led them to promise a “normal” campus experience if students don’t find it to be anything else.
And now we’re seeing the downside to the zeal to encourage students to live on campus — and pay housing fees — with students being ordered to stay in their rooms barricaded to campus and was told not to go home until Christmas.
But no matter how bad the university finances are and no matter how hard the university staff have worked, it is not up to the students to save them.
As millions of office workers have discovered over the past seven months, remote connection is an acceptable substitute for physical presence, but it’s not the same.
Students denied the opportunity to participate in laboratory work and the type of hands-on learning that is fundamental to many subjects may have suffered the most.
But even putting them aside, distance learning offers a lower-quality experience compared to in-person learning — just ask the millions of parents who struggled to help their children when schools closed.
As painful as it is for universities, it is right to acknowledge that this year’s students got a tough deal – and to reduce the amount they have to pay for the privilege.